David Whelchel is the center of attention during the afterparty at Hurdzan Golf Course Design’s offices in Upper Arlington, Ohio. He’s dressed in a simple purple polo shirt and jeans, and he tears up as friends and acquaintances shower him with gifts. Whiskey, cigars and a handmade trophy from Whelchel’s own tournament are presented to him one by one as he wells with emotion. Next to him, Michael Hurdzan smiles and laughs with the crowd as he’s presented with his own gifts.
The gifts were the least the crowd could do. Many of them have known Whelchel and Hurdzan for years, and these gifts pale in comparison to what the pair have done thanks to the Keepers of the Green charity scramble.
Keepers of the Green began as an idea shared by Whelchel and Hurdzan to raise money for charities the pair supported or found noteworthy. The event teed off in 2000 and has been held every year since — with the exception of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Causes donated to have included the Special Forces Association Support Program, which aids those in the special forces and their families, and Fore Hope, a nonprofit focused on using golf as a therapeutic practice for those with chronic illnesses and disabilities.
“The Hurdzan family, when they talk about their family and golf, guess what? It’s Mike and Chris (Hurdzan) and his family and people who personally helped me over the years,” Mindy Derr, the founder of Fore Hope, said during the outing’s opening ceremony. Derr’s nonprofit was recently absorbed into OhioHealth and she was grateful for the help Hurdzan and Keepers of the Green provided for her and her organization.
“I’m taking what I’ve learned and I’m taking it to the streets,” Derr said. “I have 32 years in business and nonprofit helping people with disabilities through the game, and now we’re the first and only nonprofit, small grassroots program that was absorbed into a major health care system.”
Hurdzan later mentioned how important it is to give back to charity, especially those revolving around the military. Hurdzan was a colonel in the Green Berets and remembers how daunting the job can be. Special forces units are deployed for the majority of the year and the time away from family can wear on everybody involved. If the soldier or their family needs help during those deployments, Hurdzan wants to make sure they are taken care of.
“It’s our way of helping in any way that we can,” Hurdzan says. “It’s pretty scary for a young family but if they know somebody that need to get to the hospital or they need medicine, or they’re having a problem with payments or something, there is a family support program that can help them if they need. It goes a long ways. So not only does the family appreciate it, the soldier feels good about it as well.”
Aside from the donations to charity, Keepers of the Green also brought back a touch of nostalgia for golfers with its event them of bringing golf back to its roots. The Golf Club of Dublin is an Irish-style course situated in suburban Ohio, and closest to the pin challenges around the course were played with hickory clubs. Hurdzan and Whelchel even played the part and dressed to the nines in classic golf fashion. Hurdzan sported plus fours and a flat cap, while Whelchel strutted around the course in a corduroy jacket and a green cap while chomping on a cigar.
However, this year’s outing might have been the last. Hurdzan and Whelchel are now both at retirement age and organizing the event has become more labor-intensive as the years wear on them both. Now that the outing has reached its 20th year, the two believe it’s best to end on a high note.
Neither Whelchel nor Hurdzan is opposed to someone else taking over operations. The tricky part is finding a group willing to take the reins that can coordinate with the contacts they have established over the years.
“It’s not a whole lot of work but you put in a lot of hours to get something like this put together, and a lot of the way that we get this done is through people we’ve met through the golf courses we’ve designed over the years,” Whelchel says. “And I would say that you know we lean on him a little bit and say you know we need your help, but they’ve always been happy to step up.”
For all the hours he’s put in over the last two-plus decades, Whelchel considers it all worth it. He says after many long nights organizing and coordinating every outing, he can sleep soundly knowing he’s done his part and helped those in need.
“I think the tournament that we have is maybe a microcosm of all that helps people,” Whelchel says. “Maybe on the other hand it epitomizes what golf should be — that we can reach out and touch somebody and help them.”
Jack Gleckler is an Ohio University senior participating in the Golf Course Industry summer internship program.