Locals spearhead national YFC tourney

For two years, two men deeply involved in Youth for Christ/USA bandied about the idea of a national golf tournament that would bring awareness to the organization's cause of providing spiritual aid to children and raise funds to help it move forward.

The problem was, putting on a gig of national scope is quite an undertaking. Especially one staged on one of the country's most renowned courses and one able to attract big-money sponsorship from across the country.

Brad Bills of Medford was one of the two men. He's a national field director for YFC/USA, serving 23 chapters in Oregon and California, and he has plenty of experience putting on fundraising tournaments locally.

The idea Bills and his cohort had "never got any traction," he said, because neither could devote the necessary time.

Enter Norm Blandel, like Bills a man of faith and, like Bills, one who is passionate about golf. Blandel is a PGA master professional who has worked various jobs in the Rogue Valley since arriving a decade ago but never strayed far from golf.

Last fall, he was between positions and asked Bills if he knew of any possibilities.

The proverbial light bulb illuminated over Bills' head.

"Given Norm's experience in the golf industry, and in the area of development and fundraising, and all his connections, I thought, here's a guy who could really make this happen," said Bills.

Blandel interviewed at the national office and was hired to organize YFC/USA's first national golf event. He and Bills submitted proposals for the inaugural tournament, with the idea that if it's successful, there would be a couple tournaments each year.

So far, so good.

The YFC Champions Golf Tournament will be Oct. 27-28 at famed Torrey Pines' South Course near San Diego. It's where a hobbled Tiger Woods bested Rocco Mediate in 2008 during one of the most memorable U.S. Opens.

And it's the kind of track Blandel and Bills need to make their project fly.

"We looked at some of the premier, very special and historic golf sites that might be great opportunities, once in a lifetime," said Blandel. "It gives people the opportunity to come together and share their faith and love and passion for the game of golf."

YFC Champions has already signed four major sponsors to the tune of nearly $60,000, including the title sponsor, Hanson Communications of Willmar, Minn., for $30,000. Oregon men's golf coach Casey Martin will be a special guest and will take part in a "fireside chat" on opening night. A club pro in the area, Jeffrey Cranford, is an ordained minister and will lead a service that Sunday morning.

The daunting task of starting the tournament seemed less so, said Bills, once Blandel scheduled the venue.

"When he was able to make connections at Torrey Pines and get a date and negotiate a reasonable price, that's when I thought this could really happen," said Bills.

Other courses that were under consideration on the West Coast were Pebble Beach, Bandon Dunes and Chambers Bay. Further east, courses mulled over for a spring event, should this one succeed, include Medina, Bay Hill, Congressional and Kiawah Island.

Blandel's ability to line up Torrey Pines didn't surprise Bills.

"He's had many, many years in the golf business," said Bills. "He can dial direct to many high-level people in the golf industry, and they'll take his calls."

To wit, Blandel considers Jim Langley, who was a longtime and revered pro at Cypress Point in the Monterey, Calif., area, to be his mentor. They met in 1974, three years after Langley took over and as Blandel was getting into the game.

Blandel also counts among his friends Eddie Merrins, the pro at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles for more than 40 years.

Langley and Merrins each sponsor hugely successful tournaments, and it is those events after which the YFC Champions is patterned. Blandel has attended each.

"It takes about 18 months to plan an event at this level," said Blandel. "We're on the fast track."

The entry fee for the YFC Champions is $1,000 per player, and Blandel wants to keep it to 120 players, or 30 foursomes. Half of the players' field could be filled through corporate sponsorships, meaning only about 60 spots, or 15 teams, are otherwise available. A handful have been scooped up and three or four other interested parties have said they want teams, said Blandel. Some are from the Rogue Valley, others are from across the country.

"I'd like it to be a good pace and not be overly crowded," said Blandel, who was a Los Angeles-area policeman for nine years before he entered the golf business.

One of the key elements to building momentum for the tournament was having a quality website created to handle marketing and registration, said Bills. They hired a Medford company, Lanphier Associates, Inc., and weren't disappointed in the product that went live only recently.

The website is www.yfcchampions.com.

There is optimism that this tournament is the first step toward something much bigger. The goal for this first go-round is to get it off the ground. A net profit would be nice — and will likely happen through corporate sponsorships — but isn't the primary concern.

"We don't want to make any promises," said Blandel. "We're trying to take this one step at a time. We need the support of other people who are passionate about helping young people. We want to help every kid, one at a time, everywhere. That is the goal."

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AJGA VOLUNTEERS: The American Junior Golf Association will be back at Centennial Golf Club for the fourth straight summer. The national-circuit event is Aug. 11-15, and volunteers are being sought to help run the showcase event for upper-echelon youth talent.

The tournament proper is 54 holes over three days, ending on Thursday. But there are activities the first two days, with a qualifying tournament on that Sunday and a junior-am the following day, along with a free clinic for kids 17 and under and a practice round.

There are a number of volunteer positions, notably medical attendants. There are also roles for spotters, timers, shuttle-cart drivers and water-station aides, among other things.

Those interested in participating should email Sarah Butler of the AJGA at sbutler@ajga.org.

Speaking of the junior-am tournament, a few team openings remain. Three amateurs will be paired with one of the junior standouts. The cost is $500 per team. For information or to register, call Vince Domenzain, Centennial director of golf, at 541-773-4653.

Have a local golf story idea? Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com


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