They played a celebrity golf tournament Friday and Saturday at the Coeur D’Alene Resort golf course, but most of the participants and organizers would tell you the event isn’t really about golf.
The golf is an excuse to come together for a great cause that affects almost everyone.
The Community Cancer Fund has raised more than $22 million through the Showcase celebrity tournament since its first year in 2014, bringing in more than $6 million during the 2021 festivities.
It’s a campaign that hits close to home with many among the field, the sponsors and the patrons, as cancer touches so many families.
NFL Hall of Famer Marcus Allen lost two grandparents to cancer, so the cause is personal to him.
“I’m just really happy to be apart of this,” he said. “I’m not here as a celebrity, I’m here as a partner. The goal is to eradicate this and to try to help save a lot of lives.”
Allen, who has participated in the tourney several times, said it’s a popular attraction for athletes and sponsors who want to be involved.
“There’s nothing better than being able to raise a lot of money to help others. I always believe that you’re rich for what you give, not what you get. But if you’re going to have a good time doing it too, that’s a win-win and (the organizers) put on an amazing event and everybody that comes up here for the first time says they’re already signing up for next year .”
But of course, if you put several dozen athletes together in a sporting event, the competitive juices are going to kick in.
They did hand out a trophy, after all.
Former Spokane Chiefs legend and 22-year NHL veteran Ray Whitney shot 70 on Saturday, coupled with the 66 he put up on Friday, to take the gross score title at 6-under par, edging out retired NFL kicker Josh Scobee and Golf Channel personality Blair O’Neal, who both finished at 4-under.
It was Whitney’s second title at the Showcase. I have previously won in 2018.
Retired MLB great Vince Coleman won the net score title at 17-under.
Despite temperatures in the high 90s and cloudless skies, the event was very well attended, and the sponsors tents were packed with folks enjoying themselves.
“It’s always a great time out here,” Whitney said. “The Community Cancer Fund is what we’re really here for anyway, and the fact that we can put something on and have some people come out – there’s a lot of people braving the heat today – and it was a lot of fun.
“It’s outside of my comfort zone a little bit – on the ice I’m very comfortable, on the golf course not so much. But good competition, a lot of fun and like I said, it’s for a very good cause.”
Whitney enjoys playing ambassador to his fellow athletes for the region.
“To get some of these athletes from outside of the local area is always great,” he said. “I think that’s what draws (fans) to come, to get the opportunity to see some of these (athletes).”
O’Neal, who easily put up the low women’s score over the two-day tourney, is several months pregnant with her second child – and sprained her ankle when she stepped awkwardly during Friday’s round and played with it heavily taped on Saturday.
She said nothing could have kept her from finishing the competition.
“I think I’m just a little crazy,” she joked. “No, I just wanted to play for the tournament and for myself and for everyone out here watching and having a good time.
“I’m glad I fought through and got the job done, you know, as well as I could have, and got to experience this whole event.”
There was plenty of star power in the field.
You want local legends? In addition to Whitney, the Chiefs were represented by two-time Stanley Cup champion Tyler Johnson, a Central Valley High School alum. Also in the field was Washington State and retired NFL quarterback Mark Rypien, who has played in numerous celebrity golf events since retirement.
Johnson played in a group with fellow NHL player Bobby Ryan and retired MLB stars Fred McGriff and Vince Coleman.
“When you’re a kid, you either watch these guys play or you hear about them and just seeing how big of legends they are in the sport and for them to be in my community playing and doing something that benefits all of us is something really special.
“It kind of makes it a really remarkable example of what Spokane and Coeur d’Alene is and you know, I’m just so happy to be a part of it.”
Rypien’s three-year old son, Andrew, died in 1998 due to complications arising from a brain tumor. Rypien merged the foundation he started in memory of his son with the Community Cancer Fund.
“This thing has just taken legs over the years and it’s amazing what Community Cancer Fund has done. The amount of effort they put into this, to bring it to our community here and to make sure that adults and children are going through their treatment and are taking care of things and it brings in an awful lot of money.
“When my son passed, we had an opportunity to help others and help families with children that are going through their own struggles and adults going through those struggles to make their life a little bit easier.”
Jon Cooper, the two-time Stanley Cup champion coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning, resides in the area during the offseason.
“It’s the highlight of the summer for me. It’s a phenomenal event,” he said.
“You know, last year we were fortunate enough to win the Stanley Cup and I brought it out here and brought it to the community and you know, this has become our home.”
Several other stars who have relocated either full- or part-time to Lake Coeur d’Alene took part, including NHL Hall of Famer Wayne “The Great One” Gretzky and his wife, actress Janet Gretzky, and NFL Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway .
Both of Gretzky’s parents and his wife’s two sisters died from cancer. He said is an “easy thing” for him to participate since he “lives across the lake.”
“It’s a wonderful event, and the whole world seems to be battling cancer,” Gretzky said. “They do such an incredible job and it’s so much fun. People are so nice. It’s a great event.”
The long list of famous sports figures golfing in front of spectators included ex-NFL stars Eric Dickerson, Larry Fitzgerald and Seth Joyner; ex-MLB sensations Dustin Pedroia, David Justice and Fred McGriff; retired NBA stars Ron Harper, Bruce Bowen and Byron Scott; and NHL legends Grant Fuhr, Jeremy Roenick and Russ Courtnall.
Zags in the house
For the first time at the event, active members of the Gonzaga men’s basketball team were able to participate in the festivities, signing autographs and posing for pictures under a tent on what is normally the driving range. Along with 12 members of the current team, there were many pieces of memorabilia on display as part of a silent auction.
Anton Watson, who grew up in Coeur d’Alene, was proud of his hometown getting a chance to do good for the community.
“It’s super cool honestly,” he said. “Just to see survivors of cancer out here and you know, as a team just come out and help make their day, it’s super cool. And a big golf tournament, a lot of Hall of Famers and professional athletes play is pretty cool.”
Drew Timme joked that Watson took a few of their teammates to see Watson’s old elementary school before they got to the golf course.
But Timme also realizes the bigger picture.
“To do something like this, we all can have such an impact,” he said. “You know, we can use our name, image and likeness to help other people, that’s really cool and special and I think it’s something that we’re definitely trying to do more of.”
Julian Strawther said his mother suffered from breast cancer, so it was important to show his support when given the opportunity.
“It’s really cool to be out here and be able to give back to a cause that means a lot to many people,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for us to, you know, get out and do something the community together and just bond with each other. So, I mean, it’s really huge for us.”