It’s a golf success story, but it all began – like most tales of inspiration – far from any fairways.
The Billy Andrade-Brad Faxon Charities for Children has been creating opportunities for at-risk kids for the better part of three decades and donated nearly $20 million to Rhode Island charities. Yet for Andrade, the more animated half of New England’s philanthropic duo, the journey began on the south side of Providence, R.I., at the Meeting Street School.
Andrade’s older brother by six years, Jack, attended the school and the pain and suffering he saw there stayed with him through an All-America stint at Wake Forest and the early stages of a prolific professional career. When the opportunity presented itself to do something for Meeting Street it was an easy decision.
“Anyone who has ever walked into a children’s hospital and seen what the kids go through . . . if you’re not touched by that you don’t have a soul,” Andrade said.
In 1988 Andrade convinced fellow Rhode Islander Faxon of the need for a celebrity event that would benefit Meeting Street and the tournament quickly turned into a New England staple.
If the tournament was a labor of love, neither player ever confused the outing for work.
“Bobby Orr was there. When I was a kid he was the biggest thing to hit Boston,” Faxon said. “Look, I still get chills on my arm talking about him.”
The event was played at Wannamoisett Country Club, a Donald Ross gem, and the golf was unforgettable, if more often than not unspectacular. But the highlight of the week, at least for Faxon and Andrade, was an informal, celebrity-only dinner on Sunday.
“I remember having (Sandy) Koufax in a room with (Andy) Pettite and (Tom) Glavine and they were talking about how lefties can come inside to right-handed hitters,” Faxon said. “Unbelievable.”
In 1994 Andrade and Faxon established their foundation and five years later they began the CVS/Caremark Charity Classic, a two-man team event featuring Tour pros at Rhode Island Country Club.
“In the beginning, I thought we could have a tournament and raise a lot of money, but we had no real rhyme or reason to it,” Andrade recalls. “It was a real mom-and-pop organization.”
The success of the “mom-and-pop organization” quickly outpaced both players’ ability to juggle family, golf and charity and the CVS/Caremark event became their primary focus, annually drawing the game’s top players in June to a tournament that raised $1.8 million last year for Rhode Island charities.
The CVS/Caremark – which has never been won by the co-hosts – is now the primary supporter of the Andrade-Faxon Charity, which received a record number of requests for grants (100) in 2009.
“I couldn’t imagine how much it’s grown, but it’s gotten to the point where we have done some great work” Andrade said. “All the other players have come to our tournament and seen it. That makes me proud to see the success we’ve had.”
Between Faxon (eight) and Andrade (four) they have 12 Tour titles, good stuff on a circuit that sometimes undervalues the significance of a victory, but both players concede much of their legacy begins and ends the third week of June when the golf world takes a competitive pause midseason for a worthy cause.
There is an unofficial waiting list for Tour players wanting a start at the CVS/Caremark, perhaps the ultimate compliment on a crowded competitive docket, and those who play the event more times than not go over and above the call – like Boo Weekley this year, who donated his winnings to the Faxon/Andrade charity.
“Guys want to play our event and I am as proud of that as anything I’ve done in my career,” Faxon said.
Heady stuff from a two-time Ryder Cup player, but then competitive accomplishments are easy to envision by comparison to what the two have done for New England charities. And for Andrade, it all goes back to his brother and Meeting Street.
“That’s what life is all about to – to touch people,” Andrade said. “Golf is special but it’s just an avenue to do better things.”