In 1979, a group of 25 UCLA supporters met for lunch at the Los Angeles Country Club, a meeting that ultimately led to the creation of an organization dedicated to supporting programs for young golfers. It was initially labeled Friends of College Golf. Its original purpose was to raise funds to provide scholarships for the UCLA Golf Team, whose coach was Eddie Merrins, the Golf Professional at Bel-Air Country Club.
In taking on the additional duties as the UCLA coach, Merrins inherited a paltry budget of just $6,000, which was grossly inadequate for big time college golf competition. UCLA graduate and LACC member John Anderson, in response to Merrins’ financial plight, hosted the founding luncheon and the idea of staging an annual golf tournament to raise funds for golf team scholarships was adopted.
FIRST TOURNAMENT HELD IN 1980
And so Friends of College Golf was born, holding its first tournament in the spring of 1980 at Bel-Air Country Club, which remains the venue for FOG’s highly successful venture. Anderson was named President of the fledgling band of volunteers. Getting even 100 players was something of a chore for the group’s founders. For the first few years, it took phone calls, notices posted in club pro shops and arm twisting to get players to sign up. Proceeds from the initial tournaments amounted to $30,000, the funds being turned over to UCLA’s Athletic Department, earmarked for the Golf Program.
SCHOLARSHIP AND HONOREE PROGRAMS STARTED
Golf scholarships were funded by FOCG at UCLA and in1984, the first scholarship was named for Eddie Merrins, the Bel-Air Country Club’s Lil’ Pro. Friends of College Golf then started naming a legend of golf as its Honoree, beginning in 1985. This established a precedent that has significantly increased both player and sponsor participation. Lee Trevino was the first in a parade of all-time great pro golfers, followed by Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer and Greg Norman. ( list of the extraordinary Council of Honorees). Thanks to these funded scholarships, UCLA became a major factor in college golf, winning the NCAA Championship in 1988.
HIGH SCHOOL CONTRIBUTIONS ADDED
In 1986, Friends of College Golf had reached a financial level where it could expand its scope of contributions to include another major segment of junior golf – - the high schools. Donations were made initially to the Southern Section of the California Interscholastic Federation, which distributed the funds to more than 50 high schools in the Southern California area. The schools receiving contributions were asked to provide matching funds and these contributions usually made the difference between the high school having or not having a golf program. As a result of this expanded scope of donations, the organization’s name was changed to “Friends of Golf” (now commonly known by its acronym, FOG). In 1990, the Los Angeles City Section high schools were added to the CIF recipients, bringing the total to more than 230 golf programs.
In 1987, thanks to a significant rise in net proceeds from the annual FOG Tournament, the contributions were expanded to include a number of colleges and universities across the nation.
CONTRIBUTIONS EXPANDED TO INCLUDE GOLF FOUNDATIONS
The latest expansion of FOG’s annual contributions focused on organizations that assist young golfers. The first of these was the Evans Scholars Foundation, which annually awards college scholarships to qualified caddies. This led to several more foundation grants.
Beginning with the initial contribution of $30,000 to UCLA in 1981, the level of contributions made by Friends of Golf has increased annually. FOG currently allocates over $320,000 yearly to 25 university and college golf teams, hundreds of high school teams and other junior golf programs. To date, FOG has contributed over $6 million.
FOG ESTABLISHES THREE MAJOR COLLEGE GOLF AWARDS
In addition to the FOG allocation program, the organization became involved in three major collegiate awards. In 1990, Tom Harmon, a FOG Director and former football great and Heisman Trophy winner, got the idea for a similar trophy that would honor an outstanding collegiate golfer/scholar. Harmon gained the endorsement of his long-time friend, Ben Hogan, and in 1990, the Ben Hogan Trophy was established. The College Golf Coaches Association annually selects the All-American College Amateur Golfer of the Year who is awarded this coveted trophy. The permanent Waterford crystal trophy is displayed at Bel-Air Country Club.
In 2002, The Byron Nelson Trophy was established and named for our cherished 1986 Honoree. This trophy goes to the College Academic Golfer of the Year, again chosen by the College Golf Coaches Association.
In 1994, FOG, together with the Ladies Professional Golf Association, established the Dinah Shore Trophy, presented annually to the female collegiate scholar/golfer chosen by the NCAA. For many years, Dinah regularly participated in the Friends of Golf Tournament, both as a player and a participant in the annual banquet. FOG makes a $5,000 grant in the winner’s name to her university’s women’s golf program.
ENORMOUS SUPPORT FROM MANY CORPORATE SPONSORS
A highlight of this highly regarded fund-raising program is the enormous support provided by corporate sponsors. Over the years, FOG has attracted an elite group of Tee Sponsors who contribute $10,000 and have their representatives on course to greet the golfers. Other sponsors donate prizes each year worth nearly $1 million, ranging from trips to all parts of the world that include airlines and hotel accommodations, and rounds of golf. Silent and live auctions are key to the fund-raising for the event.
The annual tournament includes a Golf Clinic on Bel-Air’s first tee featuring a golf lesson/demonstration by the Honoree and notable guests. A tradition at these Clinics for many years was the appearance of the 1986 Honoree, Byron Nelson, who in his 80’s amazed the assembled crowd with his unmatched skills at swinging a golf club. Other top celebrities who have graced this Clinic include famous college basketball and football coaches, UCLA golfers who have become PGA Tour stars and, on occasion, promising high school golfers, such as a young man named Tiger Woods, who still remembers the thrill as a teenager being in the same Clinic with the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Chi Chi Rodriguez.
Following the tournament is a social hour and then the International Dinner and Awards Program. Over the years, the evening’s Master of Ceremonies included Jim Lange, Dinah Shore and the outstanding television golf commentator, Jack Whitaker. In recent years, PGA great, Ken Venturi has taken the helm.
Friends of Golf, Inc. continues to provide substantial support for the encouragement of junior golf programs throughout the USA. Perhaps the highest tribute that can be paid to FOG is the annual flood of emotional “thank you” letters from college coaches, high school coaches, administrators and other recipients of its contributions. Ranking with this high praise is the statement by golf legend Byron Nelson, who called FOG’s Tournament Day “the finest one-day tournament of its kind in the country.”
Through various fundraising efforts, FOG is now making annual contributions of over $320,000 to support the following:
1. Various college programs selected by FOG’s Allocation Committee. As a condition of our support, we ask that each institution match our donation.
2. High school golf programs through the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF). We ask that the recipient schools match our donation.
3. The Evans Foundation, formed by the Western Golf Association (WGA). FOG helps fund university scholarships that go to academically qualified caddies. Scholarship recipients must have unusual civic background, financial need and academic qualification.
4. Junior Golf programs throughout the U.S. These are supported by direct contribution to the Ladies Professional Golfers Association (LPGA) Foundation, Young Golfers of America Foundation and the Daniel Murphy Scholarship Foundation.