Sleep didn’t come easy for Nick Cecere in the days leading up to last week’s Principal Charity Classic.
In his first year as chairman of the tournament’s board of directors, Cecere worried that everything would go off as planned.
“It’s different being a board member looking at things outside-in versus being the chairman and looking at things inside-out, and making sure that every little detail goes well,” Cecere said.
As things were winding down Sunday, Cecere had a winning smile on his face.
“I think it really went well,” Cecere said. “Better than expected. We had great sponsorship, and great volunteers. The PGA TOUR was great working with us. So was Wakonda and its members. Everything came together perfectly.”
Even though severe weather forced cancellation of the final round and robbed golf fans of the anticipated final-round drama, the positive vibe and energy surrounding the 2018 Principal Charity Classic was unmistakable. And the big picture – raising money for children’s charities – marches on with 20/20 vision.
“I think there’s really momentum behind this tournament,” said Dan Houston, the president, chairman and CEO of Principal.
Both Houston and Cecere predict a record amount of charitable dollars will be raised from this year’s tournament. The existing record, $3,581,427, was established in 2017.
Heading into this season, more than $13 million had been raised for children’s charities since Principal took over as title sponsor in 2007. Wells Fargo is the presenting sponsor of the PGA TOUR Champions stop.
It’s not by accident that the word charity in in the tournament’s title. It’s a reminder that birdies and eagles are nice on a scorecard, but helping kinds is why Principal and its corporate sponsors tee it up.
“We want every spectator and everyone who attends to know that what they’re doing here is not supporting Principal,” Houston said. “They’re supporting charities.”
And supporting youngsters like Cooper, 10, one four 2018 Kids Can Champions. Cooper, who was nominated for the first-year program by Blank Children’s Hospital, is in remission for B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
Blank Children’s Hospital, Children’s Cancer Connection, Make-A-Wish Iowa, Tori’s Angels Foundation and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society have all played a role in Cooper’s life. And they all receive charity dollars from the Principal Charity Classic.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about the charities,” Houston said. “This is a very unique community event. You’ve got 350 different businesses that have come together to support it. That is No. 1. And No. 2, this is one of the highest-grossing charitable tournaments on the PGA TOUR Champions.”
Tom Lehman won the 2018 Principal Charity Classic, on the strength of rounds of 66 and 65. A Minnesota native who has flirted with this title for years, Lehman finally collected the handsome trophy and a first-place check for $262,500.
Lehman, who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., but grew up in Minnesota and is a Midwesterner at heart, is always quick to mention how charity is such a vital piece of the PGA TOUR Champions puzzle. And he’s not alone.
“The community is really embracing this tournament,” said Bernhard Langer, who has won 37 times on the PGA TOUR Champions and tied for second Sunday. “It’s great they come out in super numbers and they really know their golf and they love cheering us on. It’s great to see lots of kids. We appreciate everybody embracing this, and it’s all for a good cause. It’s for charity.”
A first-round record 26,465 fans came to Wakonda on Friday. Another 26,431 came through the gates on Saturday. Cecere made the rounds both days on foot. He wanted to see first-hand how fans were enjoying the experience.
“Indiscriminately, people came up to me and said, “Hey, this is a great day for the Principal Charity Classic, and a great day for Des Moines,” Cecere said.
Cecere also talked to as many players as he could, and their response was nothing but positive.
“Believe it or not, they were as interested in the charitable side of it as they were the golf,” Cecere said.
He also stopped in the skyboxes to shake hands, look and listen.
“I asked, “What can we do better?’” Cecere said. “One of them said, “We liked it so much we want to sign up for next year already.’”
Cecere has a better grasp of things with a year of experience under his belt. Sleep should come easier from here on out.
“Every part of our community enjoys this thing,” Cecere said. “And that’s what really makes it special.”
By Rick Brown, Principal Charity Classic Senior Reporter