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Marines rub elbows with celebs

Ellie and Mark

05-22-06, 06:26 AM
Celebrity tourney called a success
May 22,2006

Ask the organizers, and this year’s Marine Corps Celebrity Invitational golf tournament was a bona fide home run, er, hole in one.

The event’s third year moved from the fall to the spring and added some new wrinkles to old events. That added up to an absolute success, said Rosie Jones, the event’s organizer.

“It was an unequivocal home run,” she said. “The weather was perfect. The course is in perfect condition. We just could not have asked for more.”

Events, which started Thursday and ended Sunday, included a two-day pro am that allowed sponsors and Marines to golf with the celebrities and a two-day celebrity tournament. It also featured Family Night with the Stars on Saturday night, which allowed regular folks to enjoy a free meal, a fireworks show, live music and a chance to get autographs from some of the event’s celebrities — people such as former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, actor Alfonso Ribeiro of “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” fame and former Vice President Dan Quayle.

Family Night was the tournament’s crowning achievement, said Lee Moore, a spokesman for the Celebrity Player’s Tour.

“I think that was probably the most impressive thing that occurred all week long,” he said. “It was not so much about the golf. That was merely the vehicle to get us all together. All of our players were so impressed with what happened there with all those families out there.”

While Family night saw impressive crowds — Jones said she wouldn’t be surprised if 10,000 people showed up —actual tournament play did not.

It did draw Steve Notargiacomo of Havelock, who arrived at Paradise Point early Sunday to watch the celebrities tee off. Notargiacomo, who also came last year, said he loves watching the golf and meeting the celebrities.

But he doesn’t understand why the crowd was so thin.

“It was lousy, absolutely rotten,” he said. “Matter of fact, I think there was less this year than last year and I think they advertised more this year. There was just nobody there today.”

Organizers say that the attendance at the tournament does not mean it wasn’t a success.

“A golf tournament is going to go regardless of there being a gallery,” Jones said. “(Attendance) was a lot like last year. It was acceptable. We’d love to have more people, but we understand not everyone is into golf; there’s other things to do on the weekend.”

Moore said golf is a sport people want to play instead of watch, and any crowd is icing on the cake.

“If you get some people out (that’s) a bonus,” he said. “The reality is there’s only one tour that draws people, and that’s the PGA tour. And there’s only a handful of golfers who draw the people.”

The real measure of success, Moore said, is events like family night and the proceeds that will be going to the three military-themed charities: Disabled Sports USA, Project CARE and the local USO.

“I would anticipate that we will top last year’s contributions to the charities,” he said. Last year, two charities — Disabled Sports and Project CARE — received $20,000 each.

As this year’s event drew to a close, the focus immediately shifted to next year’s tournament, which is all but a certainty. Jones said they are planning to hold the event in the spring again, possibly the same weekend or maybe in early June.

While the tourney was brought to Camp Lejeune in 2004 on a three-year agreement, the response has ensured it will be back next year.

“That’s about how long it takes for an event to either die or grow legs and have a future,” Jones said. “The traction after three years is definitely here for this. The celebrities want to come back, and the base wants to continue to have it.”

Moore said celebrity, community and business response was all at the highest level, which makes him excited for the future of the event.

“It was the best yet in terms of the support of the community,” he said. “That’s they key, the support which will really keep it going. This was our hope. This is the kind of event that brings us closer together.”

Contact staff writer Chris Mazzolini at cmazzolini@freedomenc.com or 353-1171, ext. 229.