By Gabriela Carroll
The South Fork Country Club in Amagansett raised over $115,000 for the East Hampton/Amagansett and Springs food pantries in a charity golf match on Friday, June 5. The match — which was live streamed on Facebook Live — was organized by Tim Garvin, the head golf pro at the club, and hosted by ABC News’ George Stephanopolous, a club member.
The match was a 10-hole competition between two teams. Garvin and two other club pros, David Einstein and Steve Luerssen, competed, in addition to course record holder and five time club champion Zach Grossman. Garvin competed with Einstein, and Luerssen competed with Grossman.
To raise money for the event, members placed bets on which team they believed would win the competition. A total of $114,735 was raised prior to the match, but club treasurer and match scorekeeper Tom DeLitto said their initial fundraising goal was only $25,000.
“This event has been beyond anything I expected,” DeLitto said. “Our membership stepped up in such a big way to, in just three weeks, raise $115,000. It’s heartwarming. [Garvin] and his staff have done a lot, and they’ve donated lessons to raise some of that money, which is money out of their pockets. Our staff has been terrific.”
On the day of the match, members also pledged money for certain prop bets. Birdies were
worth $102, eagles $100, driving the green was worth $70, and hitting fairways or greens in regulation was worth $6. After a few tough holes, Garvin and DeLitto joked that they should start pledging money every time they hit the ball out of the course.
According to DeLitto, almost half of the members placed bets on who would win, though only one-third of betters correctly guessed the winning team, Luerssen and Grossman. Led by a strong performance from Grossman, the team won the match at the ninth hole.
“Having [Grossman] as a partner is always good,” Luerssen said mid-stream. “This hole, the next hole, and the next hole, it’s called Zach’s Corner. It’s tough to beat him on this side. He’s been playing here forever, since he was 11.”
The live stream added character to an already lighthearted event. The over 400 viewers were privy to the trash talk and banter between the golfers, their interactions with their caddies, and their thought process before a shot. Stephanopolous provided commentary and interviews with volunteers from the food pantries, and DeLitto added fundraising and betting updates.
Though high winds sometimes hurt the Facebook streams — and the golf’s — quality, the stream allowed interested members the opportunity to watch the pros and Grossman, who they know well, play one another. One of the family members present at the event said on the stream that it was “so cool” to see all the pros play one another and learn from them.
Though the match was a competition, Garvin said the true winners were the food pantries, and those they serve. The winners presented the final check at the end to the representatives from the East Hampton/Amagansett Food Pantry and the Springs Food Pantry, before being doused with Gatorade.
The number of people needing food pantry services has spiked since the start of the pandemic, according to Springs Food Pantry representative Pam Bicket. At the end of May, the food pantry normally serves around 50 families per day, but Bicket says they are currently serving almost 200.
“It’s really hard for the people in Springs, where most of the workers are unskilled or semi-skilled,” Bicket said. “They paint our houses, and do our landscaping, and they haven’t been able to work. We’re seeing a slight leveling off now, and we’re running about 685 people each week seeking food.”
Bicket said the generosity of many of their donors during this time, including the South Fork Country Club, means they have enough in donations right now to provide for all of the families until September.
Garvin said he wanted to find a way to bring the club together and make an impact in the larger East Hampton and Amagansett communities. East Hampton has the highest poverty rate in Suffolk County, despite its reputation as a town for the very affluent. He was inspired by recent charity golf matches he witnessed from other high-level, PGA Tour golfers, and wanted to recreate one at the country club.
“There hasn’t been any sports on television the last three months,” Garvin said. “I think it was like 14 days ago, it was the first match, and it was two tour players social distancing against two tour players, raising money for a charity. That kind of sparked the concept to try to have two PGA players against two PGA players for a local charity.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was only a small group of around 20 live spectators consisting of those producing the stream, caddies, club staff, media, and family members, so the stream allowed those from outside the club to participate in the fun.
The event staff and attendees overwhelmingly said the event was one of the highlights of their year so far, and that they loved being a part of the South Fork Country Club community even when physically distant from one another.
“This match has been fantastic,” said pro shop manager Suzanne Wolfson. “These guys worked really hard to put the event on, and it brings everybody together for a great cause during a time when there is so much strife.”