by Steven Kissinger

Twenty-six professional golfers – including 2016 PGA Champion Jimmy Walker and LPGA Major winner and 2016 Olympian Lexi Thompson – joined 100 of Southwest Florida’s most philanthropic golfers on the links for the 10th annual Charity Classic Pro-Am November 14 at the Bay Colony Golf Club in Naples.

The scramble-style tournament is held annually to raise funds to benefit the students of Immokalee through the educational and scholarship programs of The Immokalee Foundation, now in its 25th year.

Charity Classic Co-Chairman and Board Member Don O’Neill, who describes The Immokalee Foundation’s major fundraisers as critical to the organization’s mission, also serves as a mentor.

“Simply stated, mentoring works,” O’Neill said. “I get as much out of it – if not more – than my two mentees, Alex Galvan and Gerardo Lugo. Both are now in college and have dreams and hopes for the future, Alex in business and Gerardo in professional golf management. Mentoring is where the rubber hits the road. Up until two years ago, we had mentors only for our Take Stock in Children program. Now our goal is to have a mentor for every young person in the foundation’s programs.”In addition to the Pro-Am, fundraising for the nonprofit the same weekend included the Charity Classic Celebration dinner and auction November11 at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples.

Organization founder Parker Collier, who joined with other community leaders to found The Immokalee Foundation in1991, was honorary chair. The evening featured the debut of “Heroes of Immokalee,” a film by Los Angeles filmmaker David Serota. The events raised a combined total of $2.3 million.


Kevin Johnson again chaired the Pro-Am with an important assist from PGA and Champions Tour professional Mark Lye, a founder of the tournament. Lye recruited other top golfers for the day of clinics, demonstrations, around of play and an awards presentation. Among those responding to Lye’s invitation, in addition to Walker and Thompson,were Briny Baird, Bobby Clampett, Erik Compton, Laura Diaz,Kendall Dye, Steve Flesch, Tom Gillis, Dudley Hart, Kim Kaufman, Skip Kendall, Casey Kennedy, Paige Mackenzie, Michelle McGann,George McNeill, Kristy McPherson, Shaun Micheel, Brooke Pancake,Charlie Rymer, Chris Smith, Sarah Jane Smith, Kris Tamulis, Kris Tschetter and Mike Weir.

Bigham Jewelers has been a supporter of the event for years. “When we first learned about The Immokalee Foundation, we knew it fit perfectly into our personal and business goals of helping children and families,” said Gary Bigham. “The dedication and kindness of all of theboard and those associated with the foundation are truly inspiring for our entire family. We are so thankful for the support our community has given to our business, which allows us to continue supporting great organizations like this.

“This year was special for us since our son Chase became the third generation of the Bigham family to play in the tournament and learn about The Immokalee Foundation. We are thankful to play a part in making dreams a reality for so many young children and look forward to the bright future ahead,” Bigham said.

The top men’s foursome of Kevin Powderly, Will Bobb, Hal Cohen and Phil Warren played nine holes with Bobby Clampett and nine with Brooke Pancake. The top women’s foursome included Joyce Hagen,Carol Lund, Sunny Sapiente and Kristin Miller, who played with pros Lexi Thompson and Dudley Hart.In the mixed-flight competition,winners were Doug Esson, Jay “Dick”Stonesifer, Mike Gavin and Carol Shuttleworth, who played with Kim Kaufman and Steve Flesch.

The second-place men’s foursome included Cary Petrino, Blake Benjamin, David Call and Jack Morgan, who were joined by professionals Sarah Jane Smith and Jimmy Walker for nine holes each.Women finishing second were Kaye Negri, Carolyn McCullough, Marie Stonesifer and Ellen O’Neill, who played with pro golfers Michelle McGann and Chris Smith. The second-place mixed foursome was John and Emily Costigan, Kathy Markiewicz and Mary Coughlin, who played with Kris Tschetter and Mike Weir.

Closest-to-the-hole honors went to Jim Ringler on No. 2, earning him a $2,000 gift certificate from Bigham Jewelers; Will Ellert on No. 4, who won a four-night stay at One & Only Pallimilla; and Len Boone on No. 16, who took home a two-night stay at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, and a Fleming’s gift card.Corporate sponsors of this year’s events were Florida Community Bank, Presenting sponsor; Arthrex Inc. and Caterpillar Inc., Partner Circle sponsors; Kelly Tractor, Education Circle sponsor; Naples Illustrated and Naples Daily News, Media sponsors; Huntington Bank, Success Circle sponsor; Hertz Global Holdings, Fifth Third Bank, Mercedes-Benz of Naples, Midwest One Bank, Progress Rail– A Caterpillar Corporation, and Sabadell Bank, Pathways Circle sponsors; Northern Trust, Table sponsor; and Morgan Stanley Private Wealth Management, Pairings Party sponsor.The Immokalee Foundation provides a range of education programs that focus on building pathways to success through college and post-secondary preparation and support, mentoring and tutoring, opportunities for broadening experiences, and life skills development leading to economic independence. To learn more about The Immokalee Foundation, its signature events, volunteering as a career panel speaker or host, becoming a mentor, making a donation, including the foundation in your estate plans, or for additional information, call 239.430.9122 or visit

Steven Kissinger, executive director of The Immokalee Foundation,can be reached at

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