The often-elusive golf eagle is becoming a life-changing force for local children facing adversity.
Thanks to a generosity-inspired idea hatched by two Oakland Hills Country Club members over a decade ago, golfers who card an eagle at select southeast-Michigan (and beyond) country clubs have reason to celebrate far more than their amazing feats on the greens.
Founded in 2012 in southeast Michigan, Eagles for Children raised over $1.3 million in 2023 (and over $6 million total since 2012) for grassroots charities that benefit disadvantaged children thanks to golfers’ willingness to pledge $2 for every eagle registered at their respective country club.
“There are so many members of country clubs who are very philanthropic, so Eagles for Children gives them a way to help organizations they’re passionate about,” said Beth Meade, the president/CEO of Local Impact Alliance, which is based in Canton.
From thousands to millions
“The program raised $40,000 the first year and we were thrilled. Raising that much money from $2 donations for eagles seemed crazy. But more and more country clubs have jumped on board and we’ve raised over $1 million the past two years.”
The architects of the feel-good idea are Oakland Hills Country Club members Hal Zaima and Don Kegley, both of whom are widely respected in metro-Detroit for their passion for helping charities.
“In 2010, Hal was watching a PGA tournament on TV — I believe it was The Masters — and he heard about a plan developed by PGA players to donate $1,000 for every eagle they scored to St. Jude’s,” Meade said.
“Hal thought this was a great idea and he wanted to do something like it locally.”
Approximately one year later, Zaima was attending a men’s retreat, the mission of which was to listen to what God was telling you and building the courage to say it out loud, Meade explained.
“After the retreat, Hal, who has always been a philanthropic-minded person, met with Don, who is a philanthropist and numbers guy, over coffee,” Meade added. “By the time they walked out of the coffee shop, they had written down all of the guidelines and rules for Eagles for Children.”
The program teed off, so to speak, in 2012 with three country clubs participating. It has since grown to 21 country clubs, the majority in southeast Michigan (there is also one participating club in Traverse City and another in North Carolina).
“The program works through a cumulative system,” said Meade. “If a member of a country club records an eagle, all the members of the club donate $2. Members have an option of opting out of the program if they wish, but few do.”
Due in part to Michigan’s weather-shortened golf season, most country clubs register 60 to 80 eagles per season, Meade said. “At $2 a pop, that doesn’t add up to a lot of money. However, when you multiply that by 600 members, it adds up.”
Eagles for Children has a $5-per-eagle donation option (the Golden Eagle program) and some clubs have donated as much as $100 per eagle, she said.
Meade said country clubs throughout the country are on the verge of joining the heart-warming endeavor.
Keeping it local
Meade said clubs are encouraged to donate the funds they’ve raised to local grassroots children’s charities so they can see their efforts in action.
“The program doesn’t support scholarships, medical research or large organizations like St. Jude’s because they already have a wide reach when it comes to fund-raising,” Meade said. “We love helping smaller local groups like New Hope Center For Grief Support, Plymouth’s Miracle League and the Rainbow Connection, to name three.
“The bottom line is there is some great philanthropic work being done by more than 7,000 club members who are impacting the lives of so many children, who may be battling cancer, homelessness or other adversities.”
Among the southeast-Michigan country clubs participating are Northville’s Meadowbrook Country Club, Redford Township’s Western Golf & Country Club and the Dearborn Country Club.
Program may spread to public courses
The program could spread to public golf courses, Meade said.
“We’ve had public courses approach us about how they can join, but there currently isn’t a collection mechanism available like there is at private clubs,” she said. “Someone suggested possibly doing this for public-course leagues, which is something we’re looking into.”
If you would like to donate to this great cause without having to card an elusive eagle, click here.
Ed Wright can be reached at 734-664-4657 or firstname.lastname@example.org.