It was 11 a.m. on May 21 when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana realized he was in trouble. He was on the green at the National Golf Club in Pinehurst, North Carolina. All his golf balls had been played away. Sweat droplets sat poised, threatening to slide down his neck at the uptick of humidity.
The sun—and, seemingly, Montana’s golf comrades—had been bringing the heat since 9 a.m. that morning, when the Sheetz For the Kidz charity tournament kicked off. This year’s celebrity-driven golf classic, hosted by Sheetz Family Charities, raised an estimated $400,000 for the Salvation Army. The money will provide Christmas presents for more than 6,200 children this season.
At 11:05 a.m., Montana caved. A call came in to the Sheetz media cart, requesting a cap and a new set of golf balls on his behalf.
The likes of Montana, Hulk Hogan, Barry Sanders, and Bill Cowher led the list of celebrities who participated in the For the Kidz golf classic this year. Stan Sheetz, president and CEO of the company, says supplier partners such as Pepsi have been a great help in securing some of the big celebrity names.
“[The tournament] has really just become part of our culture,” Sheetz says. “We build up relationships with a lot of these people. We don’t even have to call them anymore. They just say, ‘When is it? Where is it next year?’ It’s worked really well.”
Word of For the Kidz has spread since the golf classic started 14 years ago. Now, some participating celebrities say they hear about the lighthearted tournament from their friends first. Jack Ham, who played linebacker for 12 years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and went to four Super Bowls, is the tournament’s most loyal participant; he has played in all but one tournament since the golf classic began.
“The thing you learn about the celebrities as you continue this event [is] I think all of us tend to think that they are at a different level than us or wouldn’t be able to interact with them,” says Louie Sheetz, EVP of marketing at the company. “The celebrities we’ve had here—and we have a different group every year—I am just continuously amazed at how giving, how kind they are.”
When the charity began in 1992, Sheetz raised around $12,000 that year to benefit 100 children; 20 years later, For the Kidz has raised $6.7 million total and helped more than 56,000 children.
“It’s actually become a really great recruiting tool, recruiting new storeowners,” Louie Sheetz says. “It’s been really special. [The kids] just light up. I love it.”
By 7:30 a.m. on the morning of May 21, a legion of former professional sports stars including Rick Reuschel, Kent Tekulve, and Bruce Smith were trickling in and out of the Cardinal Ballroom at the Pinehurst Resort, stomachs filled with an old-fashioned Southern breakfast of grits, eggs, fruit, and biscuits.
As a family-run corporation, Sheetz also provided three generations of golfers to the classic. By 8:30 a.m., celebrities intermingled on the green; some were pulled away to give a quick interview to local ESPN radio 99.9 The Fan, others were asked to pose for pictures.
“When this came up, when they told me what it was and what the Sheetz family was doing with the kids, I couldn’t get here fast enough,” says Hulk Hogan, taking a break between posing for fan pictures. Hogan has supported the Make-a-Wish Foundation for years and is one of four celebrities to have granted more than 200 wishes through the organization.
“Sometimes when you’re out here having fun, you don’t realize the ripple effect and what’s going to happen when the money from the charity goes to these kids and they actually have something to open at Christmas,” Hogan says. “It’s a life-changing situation for these kids, so it’s pretty cool to be here.”
This was the first Sheetz tournament for Barry Sanders, an NFL Hall of Fame member who played for the Detroit Lions between 1989 and 1998.
“I’d heard about the tournament,” he says between holes. His golf ritual is to twitch both legs two to three times before hitting the ball.
“It’s a great, quality tournament, with the type of talent drawn here,” he says. “Obviously, [Pine Hurst] is a golf haven, and Sheetz being involved—it’s such a great corporation.”
And despite losing his golf balls, Montana says he still had a good time. “What more can you do? Have fun and help kids at the same time.”
By Sonya Chudgar