The 43rd annual Friends of Golf – Tournament of Friends at Bel Air Country Club was held last week, helping to promote and inspire young golfers.
Friends of Golf, or FOG as it is known, is a non-profit organization designed to support student athlete golfers of nearly all ages. From grade school all through college, golfers have been instilled with the values of ethics, honesty, and fellowship through the program.
Initially founded in 1979 by Eddie Merrins, nicknamed “The Lil Pro,” FOG has donated over $10 million to high schools, colleges, and non-profit organizations helping grow the sport.
Over the years, Friends of Golf has honored prestigious names like Jack Nicklaus, Sir Nick Faldo, Annika Sorenstam, Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Lorena Ochoa and Collin Morikawa.
This year, it was Ryder Cup standout Max Homa and LPGA legend, Juli Inkster, who were the honorees.
Friends of Golf honor Juli Inkster and Max Homa
As players finished their rounds Monday afternoon, Inkster and Homa arrived on the first tee. Their presence was both exciting and educational.
Following their introductions, three young golfers were showcased having honed their skills through the organization. Watching three brothers, aged eight through 15, pipe the ball down the center of the fairway with beautiful swings was a thing to behold.
Then it was the pros turn.
Homa exhibited why he is a fan favorite on the PGA Tour. He joked about not enjoying the order of things so far.
During introductions, Inkster was introduced as the 7-time major winner and World Golf Hall of Fame inductee. That’s a tough act to follow. Then after watching a 15-year-old hit 280 yard perfect drives, one after another, it’s not easy to go next.
Nevertheless, Homa pulled out some irons and put on a show. He taught everyone how to hit a fade, then a cut, going into great detail.
Inkster and Homa then took questions from the audience, providing some great insight into a professional golfer’s mentality. Inkster, one of the greatest female golfers of all-time, gave amateur golfers some of the best advice they will ever hear.
Friends of Golf Private Banquet Dinner
After Inkster, Homa and the youngsters put on a golf clinic, it was time for the dinner banquet.
During the exquisite dinner, we were all treated to a live auction. Members and of the Bel Air Country Club and sponsors of FOG offered up trips all around the world, auctioning them off to raise money for the organization.
Some of the vacations included rounds of golf at prestigious courses around the globe, with many including First or Business Class airfare. Trips to Maui, New Zealand and the Mediterranean coast were won.
Turkish Airlines provided one of the most-exhaustive, exciting trips of the night. Their package consisted of business class airfare for two, with a four-night all-inclusive stay at the luxurious Regnum Carya Golf & Spa Resort.
Guests will also receive a round at the National Golf Club and a round at the Carya Golf Club. Turkish Airlines has done so much to support this event and the sport of golf for many years.
Throughout the evening, over six figures were raised to help Friends of Golf with their mission of growing the game.
That money will go directly toward helping fund under-privileged student athletes looking to learn or improve their game.
Ken Venturi ‘Spirit of Giving Award’
Following dinner, which was absolutely delicious by the way, all in attendance were treated once again.
Bel Air Country Club member and huge proponent of Friends of Golf, Jim Nantz, made his presence felt. Nantz, who is regarded as one of the greatest and most versatile sports broadcasters in history, joined Homa and Inkster for a question and answer session.
It was a very intimate setting for fans and members. We learned so much more about who Homa and Inkster are as people and how they came to be gigantic figures in the sport of golf.
But Nantz also spent time informing anyone unaware of the significance of Friends of Golf. I literally had goosebumps as Nantz spoke about the history of this event.
“This was the First Tee before there ever was a First Tee,” Nantz said.
First Tee is a widely known non-profit organization with the goal of improving children’s lives and social skills through the game of golf. That organization was founded in 1997, when golf truly exploded as Tiger Woods took over sports globally.
But that was still 18 years after FOG took up the cause.
As Nantz explained, it was at this event in 1991 that Jack Nicklaus first met a young Tiger Woods.
After learning the thrilling history and stories of this incredible tournament, it was time for the Ken Venturi ‘Spirit of Giving Award’ to be presented.
Venturi was a pro golfer who sadly had his career shortened due to injury. He did however win the 1964 U.S. Open along with way, along with 14 PGA Tour events before going on to become one of the better known golf broadcasters.
Shortly after passing away in 2013, Venturi was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.
This year’s recipient was Tom Addis III. He is the former PGA of America President.
“Tom Addis is the ideal recipient for this year’s Ken Venturi ‘Spirit of Giving’ Award, as he has dedicated his life, both personally and professionally, to growing the game of golf and establishing access to the sport for people from all walks of life,” says FOG President Peter Best.
Addis III joins Al Michaels (2022) and Vin Scully (2020) as some of the more universally known figures to receive the award.
All in all, it was a spectacular day for all those involved. It was my pleasure and honor to attend and cover such a prestigious event.
Kendall Capps is the Senior Editor/Editorial Manager of SB Nation’s Playing Through. For more golf coverage, follow us on all major social media platforms at @_PlayingThrough