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Celebrities hit Strand for benefit golf tournament

Williams
Williams

Past NBA champion and all-star Gus "The Wizard" Williams is looking for a residence on the Grand Strand, and he's not coming alone.

For at least a day this summer, he'll be bringing sports legends including NBA Hall of Famer Julius "Dr. J" Erving, baseball Hall of Famer Joe Morgan, football Hall of Famer Lynn Swann, and boxer Gerry Cooney with him as the host of the inaugural Myrtle Beach Celebrity Golf Classic at the Barefoot Resort Dye Club on June 11.

Williams said others who have given firm commitments include former major leaguer Darryl Strawberry, NBA Hall of Fame coach Lenny Wilkins, NFL Hall of Fame receivers Steve Largent and Andre Reed, NBA Hall of Famer Sam Jones, former NFL Pro Bowl receiver Nat Moore, retired NFL Pro Bowl defensive end Richard Dent, former NBA all-star Junior Bridgeman, actor and former football defensive back Fred "The Hammer" Williamson, television and Internet journalist Kathleen Sullivan, and actor Richard Roundtree, who portrayed detective John Shaft in three 1970s films.

The tournament costs $500 per player, and four amateurs will join a celebrity in groups playing a standard scramble format.

There is a cap at 32 teams and more than 15 teams have already registered. Through relationships Williams has built with amateur playing partners in other celebrity events, foursomes from St. Kitts, Texas, Seattle, New York and Alabama are already registered for the event.

"I've played with different teams and we bond," Williams said. "We stay in touch. It's not a one-and-done thing. ... The [celebrities] I invite are great guys."

Continental Airlines is a primary sponsor, and Williams said the tournament has a 501c3 foundation and will benefit the American Cancer Society and possibly another charity or two. Williams' sister died of cancer at the age of 40. "Each [celebrity event] has a charity that is dear to their heart; in this case it's cancer," Williams said.

A post-tournament concert at the House of Blues is scheduled to be part of the event, and Williams anticipates tickets to the show to be available to the public. Organizers are in negotiations with the House of Blues and national touring acts. "Most tournaments don't provide a concert, so we're trying to put a little something extra together," Williams said.

There will be live and/or silent auctions with sports memorabilia and other items at both the pairings party at Greg Norman's Australian Grill on June 10 and the awards banquet following play at Barefoot Resort. Players can register by calling 843-251-6094 or visiting myrtlebeachcelebritygolfclassic.com.

Williams played for the Seattle Supersonics, Golden State Warriors, Washington Bullets and Atlanta Hawks, and led Seattle to the 1979 championship while averaging a team-high 28.6 points per game in the finals. Following a 12-year NBA career, the former Southern California standout had his No. 1 jersey retired by the Sonics in 2004.

Williams lives in Mount Vernon, N.Y., outside the Bronx, and has been coming to Myrtle Beach for a couple decades.

"Twenty years ago or so, me and several friends were going on golf vacations to Florida, and one year we said let's go somewhere different, and we tried Myrtle Beach," said Williams, who is in the process of looking for a residence on the Grand Strand. "It started out as a long weekend, kind of grew to a week, then came two weeks a year, three times a year, and I'm in and out of Myrtle Beach a lot now. ... Frankly, I just love Myrtle Beach. It's a place I can feel really comfortable in."

Joining Williams as tournament founders are former Burroughs & Chapin executive Tom Jones and Billy Cole, owner of the Resort Promotions golf promotion and marketing company and the former owner of Black Bear Golf Club (formerly MyrtleWest).

Cole helped Williams' group book its golf packages 20 years ago and convinced Williams to start his own charity tournament on the Strand after playing in other celebrities' events for years.

Other celebrities that tournament organizers have invited or intend to reach out to include sports legends Reggie Jackson, Ozzie Smith, Jerry West, Bill Russell, Marcus Allen, Fred Lynn, Vida Blue, Ricky Henderson, Junior Seau, Warren Moon, Rick Barry, Eddie Murray, Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith, Jim Kelly, Ronnie Lott, George Gervin and Artis Gilmore.

"More times than not, it's just a matter of if those guys don't have another event plugged in," Williams said. "If they don't they'll do it. They reciprocate, and it's like a little fraternity."

Williams' event is not open to spectators this year, but it could open to the public in future years if it continues. The Dye Club annually hosts the Hootie & the Blowfish Monday After the Masters Celebrity Pro-Am in April, which has attracted more than 6,000 spectators in each of the past few years.

"It's an inaugural event, but I could see this going the Hootie route and taking on a life of its own, for sure," said Barefoot marketing director and Dye Club head professional Jeff Diehl. "I think maybe we can look at [spectators] next year.

"What we have to offer here sets up so well for the area, for all of Myrtle Beach, with the House of Blues so close, and attractions at Barefoot Landing and all the restaurants on Restaurant Row. We're very lucky in that respect. And the golf course lends itself to accept galleries, which is where I see this going to sell some tickets to help the American Cancer Society."

To view Blondin's blog, Green Reading, or Q&A Forum, Ask Al, go to TheSunNews.com.

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