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Local charities to benefit from PGA Championship

JOHNS CREEK -- The winner of this week's PGA Championship in Johns Creek will go home with a hefty share of the $7.5 million purse and the glory of being a major champion. A large handful of nonprofit organizations from the surrounding community -- including several based in Gwinnett -- will also reap rewards.

The PGA has given an estimated 102 local nonprofits sets of four tickets to the tournament. Another 33, including Gwinnett's Rainbow Village, Mothers and Daughters Against Cancer and Operation One Voice, have been given special packages that include far more.

The tickets are able to be used by the organizations to schmooze with donors, sold for fundraisers or, if applicable, used by the people a nonprofit serves.

For Rainbow Village, a Duluth-based transitional housing community for homeless families with children, it will be the latter two.

"We are not only going to have enough to allow our residents to go to the tournament -- which is something I know they've never experienced before -- but (the PGA) has also donated tickets that we've used in fundraising," operations manager John Dawson said. "It's been a big help to us."

Susan Highsmith Graveline, the founder of Mothers and Daughters Against Cancer, said her small organization has already auctioned off some of its tickets, raising about $2,500. It'll also be able to extend goodwill to "big donors," something that wouldn't have otherwise been possible.

"We've really been able to do a lot of things with the tickets that we would never have been able to do before," said Graveline, who is also on the tournament's community relations board. "We're not big like the American Cancer Society or the Heart Association, so the impact that they're making on our group is huge."

The idea of giving out tickets -- which, in theory, wouldn't cost the PGA much of anything -- to local nonprofits seems simple enough. But Graveline and Earnie Ellison Jr., the PGA's director of business and community relations, were careful to point out that the process is far more than a simple, mindless hand-off.

Initially, members at the host Atlanta Athletic Club were asked to nominate local charities or foundations they thought might be worthy. The more than two-year process wound its way through multiple, "thorough" applications.

The committee then determined whether each organization would get a set of four tickets or "the full package," which includes exclusive hospitality opportunities, expanded access and the opportunity for participating children to attend a PGA of America golf clinic.

In the end, every organization that went through the process was granted at least a set of tickets. An estimated $200,000 in ticket value was donated, Ellison said.

"We really take the time to understand who they are, so it doesn't come across as a facade," Ellison said. "We're really serious about reaching out and making a difference. What better way to do it than to say we're thankful for what you're doing in our communities?"

Other groups supported that have connections in the Gwinnett area included the Good Samaritan Health Center, Families First Inc., Big Brother-Big Sister of Metro Atlanta and Boys & Girls Clubs of America.

Tickets given to Operation One Voice, founded by Duluth police Lt. Bill Stevens primarily to support the families of wounded and fallen war veterans, were auctioned off.

"It's pretty humbling for me," Stevens said. "It's obviously an honor, especially growing up and following golf all my life, to have these guys reach out and say, 'Hey, we'll help you.'"