Zack Hall / The Bulletin

Central Oregon golf courses host charity golf tournaments like socialites host dinner parties.

For a majority of the region’s 30 golf courses, fundraiser tournaments are a normal course of business during the warmer months.

The marriage between golf and charity has been a good one, helping nonprofits raise thousands of dollars each year to champion causes of all kinds.

But recent tough economic times have heightened the challenge for tournament organizers.

“The economy over the last few years has definitely made this more of a challenge and required tournament organizers to be more creative and resourceful,” says Sue Boettner, who helps organize the Bend Park & Recreation District’s Gopher Broke Scramble.

The Gopher Broke tournament, which was played in September at Bend Golf and Country Club, has built a loyal base of participating golfers in its nine years, Boettner says. And that has kept the fundraising take steady: nearly $20,000 this year for low-income families and the disabled to participate in park district programs.

The Bulletin asked dozens of do-gooders — all of whom rely on at least one fundraising golf tournament each year — whether or not golf and fundraising still go together like a rake and a bunker.

In the end, it appears that 2012 provided mixed results. But for most who organize the tournaments, golf still provides a viable vehicle to bring in much-needed money.

Successful tournaments

Several long-running Central Oregon golf tournaments were not played this year, most notably the Deschutes Brewery Sagebrush Classic, which had brought in more than $2 million to Central Oregon charities since first teeing off in 1990. But after losing money in 2011, which tournament organizers blamed on a rough economy, the Sagebrush Classic was put on permanent hold.

Smaller golf tournaments can still be a winner if organizers know the challenges, says Zach Lampert, head professional at Prineville’s Meadow Lakes Golf Club, which hosts myriad fundraising events each season.

“Most charities that we host don’t tend to realize how much work it takes, and how early they need to start in order to be successful,” Lampert says. “You have to start months and months in advance, and really hit it hard to get a large field ... especially if the event is new.”

Lampert should know. In addition to his day job with Meadow Lakes, he coaches Crook County High School’s boys golf team and organizes the Crook County High School Golf Team Benefit Tournament each spring.

The benefit drew 144 golfers this past April, about the same as in 2011. And though the tournament raised slightly less this year than the $10,000 it brought in 2011, it still has held relatively steady, Lampert says.

The key is providing golfers more than just 18 holes of golf, supplying extras such as enticing food and generous prizes for the competition.

“We end up spending in total — with golf, carts, prizes, and food — nearly $10,000,” says Lampert, adding that the costs are justified because they keep golfers coming back. “Historically, the event raises about $10,000, which is enough to fund the (boys and girls) golf programs for the year. We have developed a great following, and most of our participants come back from year to year.”

Putting it all together

Every fundraiser praises the help of local golf courses, which often offer heavily discounted rounds of golf to allow the nonprofits enough margin to raise funds, tournament organizers say.

And nonprofits typically rely heavily on volunteers to produce the event.

Still, it can be difficult to make the events worthwhile.

“Finding merchants to donate quality items for prizes, businesses to sponsor holes and golfers to part with their discretionary income (are the biggest challenges),” says Cheryl Tanler-Reich, committee chairwoman for Golfers For Scholars, a tournament at Eagle Crest Resort that raises funds for Redmond High School’s scholarship program.

“You need a good team of organizers who will volunteer their time to solicit players, money and prizes every day,” she adds. “Everyone waits until the last minute to commit, so you never know how successful (or unsuccessful) your tournament is going to be. It’s nerve-racking but usually comes together and turns out to be a great time for everyone involved.”

In the end, though, the benefits often can be about more than bringing in money, says Darleen Rodgers, director of resource development for the United Way of Deschutes County, which hosted its United Way Charity Golf Classic in July at Sunriver Resort’s Crosswater Club.

“For United Way of Deschutes County, our Golf Classic offers not only a very valuable source of revenue, but also an opportunity for United Way supporters to come together for a fun gathering with friends at a beautiful venue,” says Rodgers, adding that the benefit raised about $20,000 in 2012, about even with the amount raised in 2011.

The camaraderie alone makes golf and charity a good match for many of the organizers.

Mark Crose, the former general manager at Redmond’s Juniper Golf Club who helps organize the Red Dog Classic for the Humane Society of Redmond, says the tournament actually increased its take this season.

He believes that with the right ingredients, golf will continue to be an effective means of raising funds for nonprofits.

“Juniper Golf Course was very helpful in providing us a good date and a price that gave us an opportunity to make a decent profit,” Crose says. “We still feel that golf is a very viable option for fundraising and will host another tournament next year.”

How they did

A sampling of Central Oregon golf fundraisers in 2012 and how the approximate proceeds of each event collected compared with 2011:

Birdies 4 Babies (Throughout Central Oregon): Up to $23,400 from $16,500

Crook County High School Golf Team Benefit Tournament (Meadow Lakes Golf Course): $9,200, down from $10,300

Golfers for Scholars (Eagle Crest Resort): Flat

Golf World Pacific Amateur Golf Classic (Courses throughout Central Oregon): $11,000, down from $14,000

Gopher Broke Scramble (Bend Golf and Country Club): Flat, $20,000

Red Dog Classic (Juniper Golf Course): Up $2,000

Rude Rudy (Awbrey Glen): Up to $53,000 from $36,000

St. Charles Medical Center Redmond Volunteer Golf Tournament (Eagle Crest Resort): Flat, $15,000

United Way Charity Golf Classic (Crosswater): Down slightly to $20,000

Sources: fundraiser organizers