Erin Hills

Erin Hills is the host venue for the Erin Hills MACC Fund Invitational.

Maybe there’s another high school event somewhere in America that can match what the Erin Hills MACC Fund Invitational has done for charity, but you’d have to show me.

In 11 years under its current format, the boys’ golf tournament has raised more than $680,000 for the MACC Fund. On Saturday, the total is likely to top $750,000. Let that sink in for a few seconds. Three-quarters of a million dollars in 12 years.

If there’s a better story anywhere in golf this week, I don’t know what it is.

“I tell people, ‘Can you imagine this happening anywhere else in the country, in any sport?’” said Greg Budzien, the coach at Hartland Arrowhead High School, which hosts the tournament.

What started out as a dream by former Arrowhead coach Tom Tallmadge – the tournament originally was called the Lake Country Charity Invitational – has turned into an important fundraiser for the MACC Fund, which provides critical funding for childhood cancer and related blood disorder research.

The tournament epitomizes everything that’s good about golf. The competition is first-rate, with 36 teams battling for the title. Arrowhead, led by junior Piercen Hunt, a two-time WIAA Division 1 state champion and University of Illinois recruit, will be among the favorites.

But it’s bigger than scores and trophies. It’s about young men who are fortunate to be able to sling a golf bag over their shoulders and walk 18 holes helping peers struggling with cancer.

“There are a lot of kids who are at Children’s Hospital in a bed with chemo, with no hair or eyebrows, who would love to play in the cold, wet weather we have,” Budzien said. “They would trade situations in a heartbeat.”

The 36 coaches and 144 players embrace the charitable aspect, rounding up donations and pledges. Last week, after a rare late-April snowfall made courses unplayable, Budzien’s players put on their uniforms and went door-to-door in Hartland.

“I told them, ‘You know how greedy you were when you trick-or-treated as kids? Now we have to be greedy for others,’” the coach said. “We couldn’t play Sunday because of the snow, so it was a perfect day to be trick-or-treating for the MACC Fund kids.”

In yet another example of paying it forward, Erin Hills does not charge the high schools for the use of its course. The 2017 U.S. Open venue opens to the public Monday.

“(Owner) Andy Ziegler doesn’t need 144 golfers walking around his place on Saturday, and yet he does this,” Budzien said. “The course opens Monday and he always gives us the Saturday before the course opens. He’s like the nicest guy ever.”

The tournament’s mission especially resonates with Michael Bielawski, who as a junior at West Allis Hale won the individual title in 2002, before the tournament adopted its charitable format. Bielawski went on to recruit at the Lake Country Charity Invitational when he was the assistant golf coach at Marquette University.

Today, he is the MACC Fund’s development officer.

“I’m proud to say I do have the trophy on my mantle,” Bielawski said. “The amount that golf and the MACC Fund coincide is a fair amount and we’ve been lucky to benefit in various ways from golf. But this one in particular is pretty special.

“It’s a very neat thing we have going on and the kids get behind it.”

So, too, does five-time PGA Tour winner Mark Wilson. The Menomonee Falls native, a generous contributor to the MACC Fund, plays a round of golf each year with the teams that raise the most money.

“Mark is such a good man,” Budzien said. “Very generous in his own right.”

Though multiple teams raise $1,000 or more annually, Arrowhead typically leads the field.

“I’m not going to name names, but we have a $10,000 donor from the community, a $5,000 donor, a $3,000 donor,” Budzien said. “I’m so proud to be part of Hartland. It’s heart-land, just spelled different. We live in an affluent area, and people give.”

The Erin Hills MACC Fund Invitational begins with 8:30 a.m. preliminaries on the putting green, followed by a 9 a.m. shotgun start. The forecast for Saturday looks good, too, with temperatures in the mid-60s.

Spectators are welcome to attend free of charge. It’s a great opportunity to watch some of the best high school players in the state test themselves on a U.S. Open venue.

And while you’re out there, open your wallets and your hearts.

Gary has covered golf in Wisconsin since 1980 and is a multiple award winner in the GWAA writing contest. He was inducted into the WSGA Hall of Fame in 2017 and joined Wisconsin.Golf in 2018 after a distinguished career at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.