PALM DESERT, Calif. -- As far as celebrity-am golf tournaments go, the Patrick Warburton "Golf for Kids" event conducted this past weekend at the JW Marriott Desert Springs and Classic Club rates pretty high. It might not have the "A" list of Academy Award-winning celebrities like the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am on the PGA Tour, but it does a nice job of filling the celebrity void left by the old Bob Hope Classic (now the Humana Challenge), which no longer fields TV and movie stars.
Best of all, only in its fourth year, Warburton's weekend raised close to $900,000 for St. Jude Children's Hospital, a place in Memphis, Tenn., where no child with cancer is turned away and no family ever pays. Warburton's passion for the cause belies the monotone characters he played on TV such as David Puddy on "Seinfeld" and the macho Jeff Bingham on "Rules of Engagement," although he deflected praise to his tournament chairman Clarke Rheney, who Warburton says spends more than 1,000 hours working on this event.
Warburton and his wife Cathy got sucked into the cause a few years ago after Warburton played in Jim McMahon's Super Bowl tourney in Miami. McMahon's event benefits St. Jude, too, and Warburton decided to visit the hospital afterwards to read to the children, showcasing his natural talent, considering how many voices he does for animation projects. He soon decided to host an event himself.
"It's not a sad place. It's set up so the kids have fun there," said Warburton, who plays golf to a 16 handicap. "It's the best place in the world if you're a sick child and for those parents who have nowhere else to go. St. Jude is a place with answers."
I was fortunate enough this past weekend to play in Warburton's event and attend the festivities surrounding it. Hosted by the fabulous JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort & Spa, more than a couple hundred golfers and nongolfers joined about 50 celebrities in what was deemed a "party for a cause." It started with a songwriters session on Thursday night, a jam session on Friday night, followed by a more formal gala and auction Saturday night.
Friday's jam, by the way, absolutely rocked. Backed up by a terrific collection of musicians known as Sixwire, the evening went past midnight, featuring talent from some of rock 'n' roll's best bands. Musicians included such greats as Mike Mills from R.E.M., Jeff Hanna of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and John Elefante of Kansas. I was even impressed with CNN anchor Robin Meade, who rocked out a duet with Mickey Thomas, formerly of Jefferson Starship.
Mike Mills of R.E.M. jams at the J.W. Marriott Desert Springs.
On Saturday night, though, there was hardly a dry eye in house after Rick Shadyak and Craig Dismuke addressed the crowd during the gala. Shadyak, CEO for St. Jude, spoke eloquently of the mission of the great hospital, which has taken the cancer survival rate of its young patients from less than 20 percent 50 years ago when late actor Danny Thomas founded it to close to 90 percent now.
"We won't stop until no child dies of cancer," he said.
Dismuke shared the story of his 5-year-old son Ingram's battle with a rare brain cancer, Anaplastic Ependymoma. His moving recount of what his family and son, nicknamed "Ingram the Conqueror," have been through over the past two years reminded everyone of what this was about.
But as Warburton said, "While we're here, everybody celebrates life and nobody needs to apologize for that. It's a party but everyone is really cognizant of why we're really here."
Golf at the JW Marriott Desert Springs and Classic Club
Golf was Saturday and Sunday respectively on the recently renovated JW Marriott's Palms Course and the Classic Club (in the Bob Hope rotation from 2006-'08) down the street. Both courses were in terrific shape, our weather held out (there was a severe threat of rain on Saturday) and some of these celebrities, not to mention guests, had game.
My group got to play with Eric Dickerson, who has a daughter with health challenges. Eric and his wife Penny know what it's like to spend sleepless nights at the hospital worrying about a sick child. At the same time, though, Dickerson, who plays to a 7, showed the same athletic drive he had as a player in the NFL when he set (and still holds) the NFL single season rushing record at 2,105 yards in 1984 as a Los Angeles Ram. Dickerson, who hits a power fade about 320 yards off tee, fired a 76 when we all had to play our own ball on Sunday at the Arnold Palmer-designed Classic Club (I lost a side wager to him, by the way).
The best player of the celebrity lot, however, was Oliver Hudson, one of Warburton's co-stars on "Rules" and a regular on the series "Nashville." The handsome lefthander, who is the son of Goldie Hawn and sister of Kate Hudson, has been as a good as a plus-2. Warburton says playing with Hudson is like competing with a tour player. Apparently, he can't get enough strokes.
One of the most entertaining highlights on Sunday, however, came when long drive champion and trick shot artist Dan Boever employed comedian Gary Valentine of "King of Queens" in his act before the second round. Boever dressed Valentine (who is the older brother of Queens star Kevin James) up in protective gear, including a baseball player's cup, as he fired skulled wedge shots (with soft nerf-like balls, fortunately) into Valentine's mid-section:
In the end, the most important part, though, was the check, which was presented for $881,000 to St. Jude. It brings the four-year total to well over $2.5 million. The 2014 money doesn't even cover a day's operating expenses of $1.9 million, but it's a pretty good start, Warburton said.
"There are times where you feel that we're not able to get as much done as you want," he said, "but it's all good because what you do with an event like this is also create more awareness."