By Mike Kern
If you happen to be one of the most recognizable golf destinations on the planet and you’re going to honor an individual and a group for everything they’ve done for the sport, can you do any better than Dustin Johnson and Hootie & the Blowfish?
For sheer star power, that’s quite an exacta.
And that’s exactly what an appreciative, enthusiastic audience was treated to on Wednesday night at Pine Lakes Country Club, which over nine decades ago became the first course in what would over time grow into “The Golf Capital of the World.” Because those marquee names comprised the 11th class to be inducted into the Myrtle Beach Golf Hall of Fame, which now has 27 members.
“It’s about giving back,” said Bill Golden, the CEO of Golf Tourism Solutions, who emceed tonight’s festivities. “Both … exemplify those virtues, that are part of the DNA of our community. They’ve had a tremendous impact.”
Johnson, who grew up across the state in Columbia but went to college at Coastal Carolina, last week won for the 20th time in his PGA TOUR career. He’s now won at least once in all 12 of his seasons on the TOUR. That includes six World Golf Championship events and of course a major, the 2016 U.S. Open. And next week, he will once again return to the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking.
But he’s taken the time to establish a foundation to help youth from Myrtle Beach and beyond learn and play the game. He’s donated more than $500,000 to that cause, much of which goes to scholarships. In 2016 he launched the World Junior Golf Championship, an invitational event that’s already regarded as one of the best anywhere at that level and which he will once again host this weekend. And Thursday is the official opening of his brand-new facility at the Dustin Johnson Golf School at TPC Myrtle Beach, which promises to be nothing but first-class. He wouldn’t do it any other way.
“It’s just about having such a passion for junior golf, and wanting to create opportunities for the players who are coming along behind me,” Johnson said. “That’s important.”
“Something like this makes you feel so humbled and proud. Myrtle Beach became such a big part of my career. So you want to do as much as you can to help those who might need it, maybe get them started on their own career.”
A quarter-century ago, Hootie & the Blowfish – with band members Darius Rucker, Mark Bryan, Dean Felber and Jim “Soni” Sonefeld – released their debut album, “Cracked Rear View,” which still ranks among the best-sellers of all time. They also started a charity celebrity golf tournament, the Hootie & The Blowfish Monday After the Masters Celebrity Pro-Am, which in 2003 found its home to this day at The Dye Course at Barefoot Resort in North Myrtle Beach. And it’s taken off from there, with the nearby House of Blues playing a big role in the success story.
“We didn’t know if it would last this long,” said Rucker, as the band prepares to embark on a new tour. “But as long as it’s still fun, we’ll try to keep raising more money. Golf is a big part of what we do. It’s really cool. Awesome. It’s a big deal.”
You think? So far they’ve raised over $7 million, which has significantly supported the South Carolina Junior Golf Association.
“We had no idea it would turn into what it is today,” said Bryan. “And it’s still rising. We want to take it to new places. It takes 1,000 volunteers every year to pull it off. There’s no way we can thank them enough. It matters. We’re here to help more and more kids.”
To that end, while on stage tonight they pledged $10,000 to Johnson’s foundation. We should have expected nothing less. Well done, and surely well-deserved.
Mike Kern was a longtime sports writer with the Philadelphia Daily News who recently retired. In nearly 40 years at the Daily News he covered 25 Masters and U.S. Opens and nearly as many PGA Championships, as well as seven British Opens while winning many national awards for his coverage.