NORTON, Mass. — Bobby Gates got lucky. His family’s home, about 30 miles north of downtown Houston, sits 300 yards above a bayou, leaving them undamaged by Hurricane Harvey, but with a unique vantage point of its destruction.
Coming off a few years of injuries, Gates bounced between the PGA and Web.com tours this season, which left him ineligible for either this week. So rather than competing like so many of his fellow Houston-area professionals, he’s been at home, witnessing the storm firsthand and doing anything he can in the aftermath.
Earlier this week, he’d heard about some family friends, including an 85-year-old grandmother, who were stranded in their home. He alerted the authorities, who rescued them, then he and his family put them up for the night. On Tuesday, he helped gut a house, cutting out drywall and ripping out cabinets. On Wednesday, he checked in on other friends who have flood damage.
“It’s just heartbreaking to see so many people whose lives are ruined from it,” Gates said. “It’ll be months or years until the city’s infrastructure comes back and we’re back to some kind of normalcy.”
Unlike Gates, Chris Stroud is playing this week. As one of the top-100 on the PGA Tour’s points list, he’s here at the Dell Technologies Championship, playing in the second FedEx Cup playoff event.
His heart and thoughts, though, are decidedly back home.
A resident of Spring, Texas, just north of Houston’s downtown, his house has become a refuge for those who need shelter in the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s devastation.
“We had 20 people come to my house, including kids,” Stroud said during a Wednesday news conference. “They have been there since last Friday. They made a ton of food. I have a generator. That’s really the main reason why they came to the house — just because we were set up for this type of thing. Not thinking we would ever use it like this, but obviously it came in handy.”
During that news conference, Stroud announced that he’s pledged $10,000 and 10 percent of this week’s winnings to the relief efforts. That number was matched by the Barracuda Championship, which he won earlier this month. The PGA Tour has donated $250,000. Dell, this week’s title sponsor that is based in Texas, doubled that total.
At its core, golf’s foundation is that of a charitable enterprise. Most tournaments are considered nonprofit entities. And so, when disaster strikes, when relief efforts are necessary from anywhere, the game is set up to quickly provide that support.
It can feel almost disrespectful to think about golf at a time like this. The city of Houston has been ripped apart, thousands of people dealing with the aftermath. It all makes knocking a little white ball into a hole in the ground seem like a more frivolous pursuit than usual.
The reality, though, is that tournament competition during these times can serve as not just a diversion from tragedy, but as a conduit to spreading the message about how to help.
LPGA star Stacy Lewis lives in Houston. Her husband, Gerrod Chadwell, is the head coach of the University of Houston women’s golf team. She’s pledged all of her earnings at this week’s Portland Classic to relief efforts.
“It has been so hard being away from home and my family the last week,” she posted on social media Wednesday. “It’s been even harder watching what my hometown is going through. The pictures and the stories [are] unimaginable. My home and family have been extremely lucky, but many others have not been so lucky … I can’t wait to get home to Houston and help my hometown recover!”
Another Houston resident, Shannon Fish, who plays on the Symetra Tour, offered $500 per eagle and $100 per birdie at this week’s Sioux Falls GreatLIFE Challenge. Within 24 hours, the tour announced it would match that donation, then title sponsor GreatLIFE announced it would match all donations up to $50,000.
“I’m just a proud Houstonian a thousand miles from home and I wanted to do something,” Fish said. “When I first put it out on Twitter, I thought if I played well, I’d raise $2,000 at maximum. In 24 hours, because of the generosity of my Symetra Tour family and our title sponsor this week GreatLIFE, we could now raise $100,000 plus.”
Many of Fish’s fellow competitors have similarly made pledges based on performance, a common practice within professional golf circles.
Conrad Shindler lived in Houston for five years during his childhood. His father is from there and many of his relatives still live there. He considers it his “second home.”
This week, he’s competing in the first event of the Web.com Finals before embarking on his rookie PGA Tour season in October. He pledged $200 per eagle and $100 per birdie, though he already knows he’ll donate more if his performance doesn’t match his altruism.
“We can’t be where we are without the fans and the support we get,” Shindler said. “Giving back, to me, is not even a second thought; it’s just part of what we do. That’s what is so great about this game. It doesn’t take anything extreme for that. Even without this storm, people in this game always give back.”
The list goes on and on.
K.J. Choi, who lives in Houston, has contributed $100,000. So have others who reside there: Patrick Reed donated $50,000; Jhonattan Vegas gave $25,000 to the fund set up by Houston Texans player J.J. Watt; Mark O’Meara pledged $10,000 plus 10 percent of his Champions Tour earnings for the remainder of the year.
By the time you’re reading this, there will likely be more names added to that list.
And that’s not all. Because not every donation will even be announced.
One top-20 player told me that he did indeed contribute, but doesn’t want or need the credit of making it public. Another concurred with that message, adding that his team is still researching which outlet is the best fit for his donation.
There’s no right or wrong answer here. There’s no right or wrong way to contribute to the devastating tragedy that Houston has incurred.
The message here is that people need help. And in golf, a game already familiar with philanthropic efforts on a weekly basis, offering that help, through any means, comes as naturally and easily as a tap-in birdie putt.
“I think golfers in general are used to giving back,” Gates explained. “It’s a unique sport because we’re involved in so many cities. We all have a home base, but we travel. You get to know people and make friends in those cities, so you have emotions attached to those places you visit. The Shell Houston Open brings a lot of great players from around the world to Houston, so they’ve all gotten to know this city.”
Gates is planning to spend the remainder of this week taking down more drywall and Sheetrock, helping people tear down their homes before they can rebuild them. He and his family are doing whatever they can in Houston, just as those outside of the city are doing whatever they can with their efforts.
“It’s pretty cool to see the response from friends and family,” he said. “And from total strangers.”