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PGA Tour charity total nears $1 billion

Money is the easiest way to illustrate overwhelming growth on the PGA Tour.

Vijay Singh earned more money last year than the combined career earnings of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miller. Prize money from the three World Golf Championships this year will be about the same as the total purse on tour 20 years ago.

But here's one number that should get everyone's attention:

The PGA Tour is expected to surpass $1 billion in charitable giving early next year.

``It's a big number,'' commissioner Tim Finchem said. ``What this represents is that slowly but surely, charitable giving is more than something we do. It's part of our culture. It's what the players think about, the staff thinks about and the tournaments think about.''

The first donation was $10,000 in 1938 from the Palm Beach Invitational, a tournament that no longer exists. The tour hit the $100 million mark in 1987, and it went over $500 million just six years ago.

A campaign called ``Drive to a Billion'' will start Wednesday morning at Pebble Beach. A commemorative tee shot will be hit at every tournament until the tour reaches $1 billion. The special driver, made in 1938, will serve as the torch for the campaign.

The tour also plans a public service campaign in print and broadcast that will start this month, and players will be asked to wear commemorative pins that will be sold at tournaments and online, with proceeds going to PGA Tour Charities, Inc.

The PGA Tour has the perfect paradigm for giving. Most of its tournaments are run independently, allowing them to contribute net proceeds to various charities in their communities.

One reason for the accelerated growth in charity was Finchem's decision five years ago that any new tournament had to be set up as a non-profit organization.

``Culturally, we wanted to be married with giving back,'' he said. ``And if we wanted to be culturally married, then it was important to be structurally married to giving back. The only way to do that was to have as many tournaments as possible in that situation.'


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