VERONA, N.Y. – Notah Begay III always thought he would make a name for himself on the golf course. He has, but not necessarily in the way he first envisioned.
After graduating from Stanford, where he was a three-time All-American and roomed with Tiger Woods, Begay made the top 10 on the Nike Tour (now the Nationwide Tour) money list to earn a place on the PGA Tour for 1999. He had a pair of wins in each of his first two seasons on tour, but since then has been plagued by back trouble and has turned much of his attention to charity work.
Begay, the only full-blooded Native American on tour, and his dad formed the NB3 Foundation in 2005 in an effort to improve the lives and well-being of Native American youths. The foundation’s signature fundraiser is a golf event, the NB3 Challenge. It’s a collaboration between the Oneida Indian Nation of New York and the San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians of California.
The third annual challenge will be staged Tuesday at the Oneidas’ Atunyote Golf Club, home of the Turning Stone Resort Championship on the PGA Tour.
It will be a mixed-team skins match with a purse of $400,000, and as usual it has a star-studded field: former LPGA superstars Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa, along with current stars Suzann Pettersen, Cristie Kerr, Morgan Pressel, and Anna Rawson. PGA Tour regulars Anthony Kim, Camilo Villegas, Hunter Mahan, Vijay Singh, and Rickie Fowler, who is part Navajo, along with Begay complete the field.
All it took to assemble the field was a few phone calls from Begay.
“The turnout we got is amazing. This field is second to none,” Begay said. “There was no hesitation on anybody’s part. To get players of this caliber, assemble this kind of field, pull players out of retirement and get them interested and behind what we’re doing is very inspiring to me. It says a lot about what we’re trying to do.”
Begay said money his foundation donated to San Felipe Pueblo helped fund a $750,000 soccer field and park that just opened in New Mexico.
“San Felipe Pueblo has been located there since around the 13th or 14th century, and this is the first recreational facility that they’ve ever had,” Begay said. “We wouldn’t have been able to do that without the Challenge. There’s no way. The event’s had a tremendous effect, and the players really respect what we’re trying to impact in Native American communities.”
Begay said 230 kids already have signed up for soccer. “It’s really growing,” he said.
Begay’s foundation also has contracted with Johns Hopkins University to help design health studies regarding Native Americans, who are plagued by diabetes and obesity.
“We want to put our money into causes that are evidence-based and researched,” he said. “We’re not out there to throw money at issues and kind of see what sticks. We’re making decisions on how this money is used so that we don’t waste anybody’s resources. We’re very proud of that.”
Last year, Woods accepted Begay’s invitation to play, and he didn’t disappoint. He won three straight holes at the close to edge Villegas for top money. The foundation netted over $1 million from the event and Begay said he expects a similar return this time.
Originally a pure skins game format, Begay made the switch to a mixed-team, best-ball format this year because of the absence of Woods, who is trying to put his personal life back together following revelations about numerous affairs that led to his divorce last week.
Reverting to the original concept might be on the horizon, though.
“Tiger has already asked about next year,” Begay said. “We’ll be glad to have him back.”
And that can only help in the long run.
“I feel like this event is just going to continue to grow and gain more and more support across the country,” Begay said. “There’s so much need out there. It’s a big struggle, but it’s a lifelong commitment for me. I’m 37 years old and I’ll be doing this until the day I die. I just want to serve my people any way I can.”