This article first ran in The Cedar Rapids Gazette on July 10, 2017, and can be found here.
CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA — Smylie Kaufman rolled up to the No. 8 tee box Monday morning at Elmcrest Country Club with the Counting Crows blaring from a portable speaker sitting in the cupholder in his golf cart.
The PGA Tour pro was in the middle of his round with four strangers from Eastern Iowa. A few hundred spectators lined the cart path around the tee.
And as the 25-year-old teed off, with their hit song ‘Omaha’ blaring out of the speakers, Kaufman thought to himself, “this is fun.”
Kaufmann joined 15 other professional golfers — including Davis Love III, Bill Haas, Brian Harman and others — in the seventh annual Zach Johnson Foundation Classic on Monday, a charity event hosted by Cedar Rapids native Zach Johnson. The pros were paired up with a random foursome and, in front of a few thousand fans, played a full round of golf.
“It feels like it’s a tour event,” Kaufman said. “It’s probably the coolest foundation event that I’ve played in. It’s pretty remarkable how cool it’s set up. It seems like there are a lot of great people here in Cedar Rapids, and Zach is always fun and anything he invites you to, it’s going to be a great time.”
It wasn’t just professional golfers playing Monday. Several celebrities joined in on the fun, too, including Denver Broncos kicker Brandon McManus, former Hawkeyes Bobby Hansen, Dallas Clark and Nate Kaeding, and even Alfonso Ribeiro, one of the stars on the ’90s sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.”
Johnson hosted a fundraising gala Sunday night and, paired with the classic on Monday, raised $1,020,000 for Kids on Course, the most they’ve ever raised and beating their goal of $1 million.
The nonprofit provides tutoring, enrichment, parent engagement support and health support to children at Grant, Harrison and Van Buren Elementary Schools and Roosevelt and Wilson Middle Schools in Cedar Rapids, and is something Johnson has supported since its founding. They now have over 800 children in the year-round program, grown from just 60 in its inaugural year.
And were it not for the celebrities and golfers’ support, Johnson said, the event wouldn’t have been nearly as successful.
“It’s one of those situations, it’s not the easiest thing,” Johnson said. “It’s not like Cedar Rapids is next to the next tour stop necessarily all the time, or adjacent to the one previous. It’s not easy to get here. For them to make this a priority is special. I don’t forget it.”
Kaufman said it was an easy decision to take part in the classic. And while he could have been preparing for his next stop on tour, or even the British Open later this month, he said he understands how big of an impact this event has — and how much it means to Johnson.
“This is his home,” Kaufman said. “I love the fact that he’s giving back to where he’s from. There’s a lot of guys that don’t live where they grew up, so for him to come back and still be a part of the community and give back and raise that much money, it’s pretty cool.”
Johnson’s wife, Kim Barclay, played a huge role in the classic, and has for all seven years. She hosted the gala on Sunday, where a large portion of the money was raised.
Seeing how the community has responded to the fundraisers and classic tournament, she said, has been incredible.
“It’s grown tremendously,” Barclay said. “More than just growing, support hasn’t waned. We’ve had solid support form the same people who were with us seven years ago, they’re with us now. I think that says a lot about them, I think it says a lot about us. It’s an exciting partnership that we have with the community here.”
Even though the charity is nearing the 10-year mark, both Johnson and Barclay said they are really just getting started with it. They have a lot they still hope to do with it, and want to make sure that it doesn’t go away anytime soon.
“Our goal is to get it funded to the point that it can continue for years after Zach is no longer relevant,” Barclay said. “That’s our goal, to get it funded so it stays, even when we’re gone.”
Both Johnson, Kaufman, and many other pros who played in the classic took off for Moline, Ill., Monday afternoon to prepare for the John Deere Classic this weekend. So while it was a very short-lived break, Kaufman said it was a much needed change of pace.
“We play so much golf, it’s just kind of nice to get the speakers on, just hang out and enjoy the day,” Kaufman said.