Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Thompson golf turns 30, a true survivor

Four days of fun, fighting leukemia


By JEFF CORDES
Express Staff Writer

Starting out small and well intentioned because a man died of leukemia in 1976, the Danny Thompson Memorial golf tournament has become, 30 years later, much bigger and successful—a story of survivors.

Survivors of cancer and leukemia and their stories seem to be multiplying at the Danny Thompson Memorial golf tournament in Sun Valley each year and that's a good thing. It means progress is being made.

Tournament director Georgie Fenton of Ketchum said, "When the Danny Thompson Memorial began, the chances of recovery from leukemia were low. Today the recovery rate is almost 70% with even greater hopes for the future."

One example is Gregg Giuffria, a Mississippi native and founder of the 1970s rock band Angel who attended the Thompson tournament last August with his close friend Brad Corbett, former Texas Rangers owner.

Giuffria didn't know that his donation to leukemia research last year would become very personal. That's because a routine blood test last winter determined Giuffria, a successful businessman in the gaming industry, had leukemia.

Treated with chemotherapy and medication, he has been told that his white blood cells have returned to normal. Giuffria will return to the Thompson Memorial this week as a participant who has benefited from the tournament's mission.

Lots of money has been raised. It is constantly working hard for itself.

Last year's Thompson take for cancer research was $622,000, third highest ever. In 29 years, the Thompson has raised $7,927,500 for cancer research, split between University of Minnesota Leukemia Research Foundation and Mountain States Tumor Institute (MSTI) of Boise. Since MSTI opened its doors in 1969 it has become Idaho's largest provider of cancer care services.

Fenton said the tournament funds have been leveraged through matching grant programs into greater sums for research. She said, "Because of these matching grants, the $622,000 we raised last year will be leveraged into somewhere between $1.5 and $1.9 million. It has become really serious money for research."

The tournament's "Diamond," "Platinum," and "Gold," sponsors are US Bank, Thrivent Financial for Lutherans and Delta Air Lines. Silver sponsors are Anheuser-Busch, Merrill Corp., J.R. Simplot Co. and Washington Group International.

Besides Gregg Giuffria himself and the American Gaming Association, the other 43 businesses, families and individuals on the sponsor list include local businesses Sun Valley Resort, Elkhorn Golf Club, Thunder Spring, Elkhorn Springs, SkyWest Airlines and Sutton & Sons.

The tournament is named for Danny Thompson, a Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers infielder who died of leukemia in 1976 at 29. It was started here as a late-August celebrity clambake in 1977 by Idaho legislator Ralph Harding and baseball slugger Harmon Killebrew, a Twins teammate of Thompson.

Fenton expects a full field of 240 golfers including celebrities and politicians in the four-day tournament, which runs Wednesday through Saturday, Aug. 23-26 on two Sun Valley golf courses. A tournament highlight will be the 13th annual Thompson Memorial live and silent auction Friday, Aug. 25 in the Limelight Room of Sun Valley Inn.

Items on the auction list include an eight-day trip by sea to Scotland and the British Open; a Kentucky Derby trip; a visit to a 4,300-acre estate in Tuscany; fly fishing trips; and a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

"The auction has become our biggest single moneymaker at the tournament," Fenton said.

The sports celebrity list includes:

· From baseball: Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson and Harmon Killebrew, Bill Buckner, Bobby Grich and Paul Hartzell.

· From football: Ed Marinaro, Jerry Kramer and Joe Washington.

· From basketball: Jack Marin and Arnie Ferrin. Duke basketball All-American Marin, 61, one of the founding fathers of the Celebrity Players Golf Tour, is one of the best golfers in the Thompson field.

· From hockey: Craig Ludwig.

· From ESPN: Chris Berman. From the entertainment world: Kevin Sorbo, Muzzie Braun and Arte Johnson.

Politicians on board in 2006 include Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers (R-Ky.); Rep. Martin Sabo (D-Minn.); Rep. Butch Otter (R-Id.); Rep. Joe Baca (D-Ca.); Rep. Ray LaHood (R-Ill.); Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.); and Rep. Mike Oxley (R-Ohio).

Spectators are invited to watch and, when appropriate, ask for autographs. Check the pairing sheets at the golf pro shops to see where your favorite golfer is playing.

Tournament format is four-man two-best ball over two days. Here is the tournament schedule.

· Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 23-24: Registration from 9-6 on the Sun Valley Inn Limelight Room terrace and promenade. Practice rounds all day, each day, on the Sun Valley and Elkhorn golf courses.

· Thursday, Aug. 24: Welcome western barbecue at 6 p.m. on the Trail Creek Cabin grounds. Tournament pairings distributed there.

· Friday, Aug. 25: First 18-hole round of the Thompson Memorial, featuring 9 a.m. shotgun starts at Sun Valley and Elkhorn. Those not golfing have a guided hike, luncheon and fashion show today.

Cocktails and auction dinner 6 p.m. in the Limelight Room of Sun Valley Inn. The 21st annual Chairman's Award will be revealed.

· Saturday, Aug. 26: Final 18-hole round of the Thompson Memorial, with 9 a.m. shotgun starts on the Elkhorn and Sun Valley courses. Awards reception at 5:30 p.m. at Sun Valley Resort golf course.

The ladies will hold a nine-hole scramble golf tournament today at 10 a.m. at Bigwood Golf Course.




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