A Classic Example Max’s Golf Tournament Shows the Power of Philanthropy

They call it a “shotgun start.”

That’s the name given to the process used to get as many as 120 people around a golf course in a timely fashion for a charity tournament or even a regular Saturday morning’s play at the local municipal course. The idea is to send everyone off at the same time, using all or most of the 18 holes, enabling them to finish at the same time.

The name is derived from the fact that in the old days, the individual starting the tournament would sometimes actually fire off a shotgun to signal the start of play. Those crackles have long since been replaced by horns.

But for the start of the first Max Classic tournament in 2004, organizers, looking to evoke some nostalgia or to just get the ambitious event off with a bang — literally — fired a Revolutionary War-era cannon to get things going. The blast cracked a mirror in the lobby at Crestview Country Club in Agawam.

Seven years of bad luck? Hardly.

It’s been four years of incredibly good fortune for Baystate Children’s Hospital — which has been the beneficiary of the tournament since the start — with the promise of many more to come. Indeed, the event, so-named because Max’s Tavern is the lead presenting sponsor, is fast becoming one of the most popular tournaments on the region’s crammed slate, and the benefiting organization is one that touches, in one way or another, virtually everyone who puts a tee in the ground or places their name on a tee sign. So the future looks bright.

The past and present aren’t bad, either. In four short years, the Classic has raised more than $500,000 for the Children’s Hospital. Those who organize or play in charity tournaments might think that’s a misprint; it’s not. But perhaps more important than the number behind the dollar sign is the direction in which the money goes — toward specific equipment purchases identified as priorities by hospital administrators.

In the first year, proceeds went toward purchase of omnibeds, or high-tech incubators, for the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit — with the accent on the plural. Organizers thought they’d raise enough for one, but obviously did much better than expected. In years two and three, a total of more than $250,000 was channeled toward asthma programs at the hospital, and this year’s event raised more than $160,000 for a digital pediatric echocardiogram.

That’s roughly half the actual sticker price, said Dr. Edward Reiter, chairman of Pediatrics at Baystate Children’s Hospital, who told The Healthcare News that the donation probably expedited the process of moving the echocardiogram up the list of capital purchases within the Baystate Health system. Overall, he said the golf tournament and other special events staged on behalf of the hospital have helped the facility stay on the cutting edge of technology and programs at a time of still-inadequate reimbursements for care and fierce competition for capital dollars.

“The challenge of the capital budget process for any children’s hospital is a dramatic one,” said Reiter. “That’s because the amount of revenue that comes in from insurance payers for clinical care doesn’t enable you to purchase all the things you need for a modern setting.

“That’s why the gifts from generous individuals and the proceeds from events like the golf tournament are so important,” he said. “New technology is very expensive, but it’s also very necessary if we’re going to provide the best care.”

This month, The Healthcare News looks at what has become a perfect match between a company, Max’s, with a deep commitment to philanthropy, and a beneficiary that has important items on its wish list.

Round Numbers

It took some doing, but organizers of the 2007 Max Classic managed to get one of the manufacturers of the desired digital echocardiogram to bring one of the machines to the Ranch Golf Club in Southwick, one of two venues used for the tournament, so participants could see where their largesse was going.

The sales representative brought his son along to act as a ‘patient’ for demonstrations, said Jennifer Baril, major gifts officer for the Baystate Health Foundation. “We wanted to make a strong connection between the golf and the beneficiary,” she explained, adding that this has been accomplished in several ways, right down to ‘Children’s Hospital’ logos placed on the golf balls and bottles of water given to each of the players before the start of the tournament. “By making that connection, people can better relate to the hospital and see why their help is needed.”

As she talked about fund-raising efforts for the Baystate system and specifically the Children’s Hospital, Baril said there are several special events during the year involving the Children’s Miracle Network, the fund-raising platform for pediatric care — including an annual radiothon and telethon — that raise money for programs across the system. This includes two other hospitals — Baystate Mary Lane in Ware and Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield. The system also solicits major gifts from area residents and business owners that are often put toward specific purposes and programs.

The Max Classic is a type of hybrid, she explained, adding that it is a special, annual event, but one with a specific beneficiary — the Children’s Hospital in Springfield — and often very specific equipment purchases. It is quite unique, because it’s organized by a private entity, Max’s, and not the benefiting institution or non-profit group.

It all started with the philanthropic tendencies of Rich Rosenthal, founder and owner of a series of Max’s restaurants: the Tavern, within the Basketball Hall of Fame complex in Springfield, and five others in the Greater Hartford area.
When he started doing business in Connecticut, Rosenthal soon sought out a major beneficiary for fund-raising activities involving his restaurants, said AnnMarie Harding, events coordinator for Max’s Tavern, and found one in the Arthritis Foundation. His restaurant group has also staged events to benefit the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and myriad other groups, she said.

Rosenthal’s arrival in Springfield coincided with efforts among supporters of the Children’s Hospital to find new funding sources, she continued, adding that the hospital seemed like a perfect fit for Rosenthal’s efforts to find high-impact ways to benefit the Greater Springfield community.

Fund-raising efforts for that facility started with grand-opening festivities for the restaurant in the summer of 2003 — continuing a tradition involving each of the Connecticut eateries — and have been followed up with several special events, including two galas staged at the restaurant and the golf tournament, which has quickly become one of the largest and most popular in the region.

Ron Sadowsky, vice president of Williams Distributing in Chicopee, a family-owned business started by his father, Bill, said that despite a saturated schedule of charity golf tournaments, he and others recruited to organize the Max Classic knew there was room for one more, especially if it was unique and had a beneficiary with which area individuals and especially business owners could relate. He’s been proven right.

The Sadowsky family, which has been very philanthropic in its own right over the past several decades, has a strong connection to the Baystate System and especially the Children’s Hospital, said Ron Sadowsky, noting that his wife, Brenna, has been involved in several fund-raising initiatives for the facility and the group Friends of Children’s Hospital.

Couple that interest with Ron Sadowsky’s major contributions over the years — in both time and money — to golf tournaments for the American Heart Assoc. and the Jimmy Fund, and it’s easy to see why the Max’s tournament has become a Sadowsky family affair, with Ron’s brother Jim and his wife Barbara also becoming major sponsors.

And to honor Bill Sadowsky and the philanthropic traditions he established for his family, the 2007 Max’s Classic was played in his memory.

Fair Way to Succeed

The first Max Classic raised just over $100,000 for the Children’s Hospital, said Harding, and has grown in size — in terms of golfers and the number printed on the check given to the hospital — each year since, to the point where the amount raised is approaching that garnered from a similar event staged in the Hartford area for the Arthritis Foundation.

This has been accomplished by gaining the support of numerous corporate sponsors, who contribute on a number of levels. For the 2007 tournament, Max’s was joined as a lead, or presenting, sponsor by Cadillac and Winer/Levsky Group. There are several other sponsorship levels, said Sadowsky, adding that the event has added new supporters each year, again because of the uniqueness of the event and the beneficiary.

“The tournament has really captured the attention of the business community,” he said. “People come back every year, and more people want to be a part of it — it’s really amazing.”

The 2007 event was played seven weeks ago, but already planning is underway for next year’s edition. This means work on the part of the tournament committee to continue to find new and intriguing ways to bring value for sponsors and individual golfers, and among those involved with the Children’s Hospital to identify specific needs that could be met by the event.

A new fiscal year will be starting soon, said Reiter, adding that he and others will soon be reviewing lists for capital requests and programming needs to determine how the 2008 Classic can best help the hospital advance its mission.
He said that it is usually easier to capture the attention of hospital administrators — or golf tournament organizers — with requests for the latest high-tech equipment that can be seen, touched, and heard. It’s harder, but no less important, to gain funding for programs that will have long-term benefits for the region.

“What are the things that your children’s hospital should be doing for the community?” Reiter asked, noting that this question should be the basis of the discussion. “We already have a comprehensive obesity program that needs to be increased in size, and a diabetes program, which is exploding in part because of the obesity problem, that needs more staff.

“And for some reason, this region is a hotbed for asthma,” he continued, adding that he expects the golf tournament and other special events to play a key role in expanding and improving programs to combat these problems for years to come.

Rub of the Green

For the second Max Classic, organizers dispensed with the cannon and started things off with strains from a bagpiper.

It was a safer approach — no cracked mirrors — but one no less poignant.

That’s because since the start, this has been a tournament, and a unique partnership, certainly worthy of note.

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