By RICK BROWN, PCC Senior Reporter
It’s as if Mother Nature was saying, “Sorry, we owed you one.”
Payback was a beautiful thing Sunday, when perfect weather put a sunny bow around the 2019 Principal Charity Classic at the Wakonda Club.
“They did owe us,” tournament director Doug Habgood said. “And they’re paying us back.”
A year after inclement weather wiped out the final round, Kevin Sutherland was crowned champion on a chamber of commerce day.
“It was disappointing a year ago to lose the final day,” said Dan Houston, chairman, president and CEO of Principal Financial Group, the tournament’s title sponsor for a 13thyear. “It was somewhat anticlimactic relative to all the other great finishes we’ve had.”
This week didn’t get off to a great start. Heavy rain washed out Tuesday’s pro-am and shortened Wednesday and Thursday pro-ams to 10 holes, with no carts allowed.
Wakonda superintendent John Temme and his staff did an incredible job getting the course in tournament-ready condition for the start of official play on Friday. Some of the mowing was done with push mowers because the turf was so saturated. Other area clubs pitched in to help.
“I never thought the players would be raving about the course,” Habgood said. “It really played amazingly well.”
Aaron Krueger, Wakonda’s director of golf, stood outside the pro shop Sunday, looking at something he didn’t expect to see earlier in the week – a pristine course that was starting to play firm and fast. A north wind the last two days helped dry the sponge that Wakonda had been.
“It does seem like a dream,” Krueger said.
Sutherland won’t be the only one leaving town with a nice check. Thousands of children will benefit from the charity dollars this tournament produces. A record $4,356,321 was raised last year. Houston predicts that a new record will be set this year. More than $17.7 million has been raised for children’s charities since Principal Financial Group took over as title sponsor in 2007
The money benefits the tournament’s six charity partners – Blank Children’s Hospital; Bravo Greater Des Moines; the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines; MercyOne; United Way of Central Iowa; and Variety, the Children’s Charity.
Dollars raised by the highly successful Birdies for Charity program also touch many more youngsters in the Greater Des Moines area.
The Principal Charity Classic has clearly become a community event. Some 350 sponsors – more than any other PGA Tour Champions event – and 1,200 volunteers help make this a tournament that is the envy of many PGA Tour Champions stops.
“I just think there’s a lot of energy on the part of volunteers and the small and medium-sized businesses,” Houston said.
Among those taking notice was Brandel Chamblee, a former PGA Tour player who is now lead analyst at Golf Channel. Chamblee, who was in the field this year on a sponsor’s exemption, was impressed with what he saw.
“It’s a win-win,” Chamblee said. “Principal has gotten the community involved. I don’t know how they did it. Every community is trying to do that.”
Houston said that the tournament’s mission of helping kids is one reason the community has joined forces with Principal to make this a first-class event.
“I think it has everything to do with that,” Houston said. “This year we’re knocking on the door of $5 million dollars (for charity).”
Habgood had a different twist on youth.
“We’ve had great crowds,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of kids out here. I’ve noticed the younger demographic keeps growing, which keeps the health of this event strong.”
There’s one more story that offers a glimpse of why the Principal Charity Classic marches on as a community event.
“The pro-am conditions were difficult,” Houston said. “They only got to play 10 holes and there were no carts. And there was not one complaint. Not a single one. Because people understand the real purpose of the tournament.”