Stereotypes are the shorthand of the shortsighted, a lazy way to stumble to conclusions that are usually incorrect. Frequently victimized by such labeling are the wives of PGA Tour players, pigeonholed by some fans as eye candy whose main occupation is to spend their husbands' money. The truth of the matter, however, is that the PGA Tour Wives Association is one of the most active and effective organizations operating in the charity-centric world of golf.
The PTWA, which marks its 25th year in 2013, has raised more than $5 million for charity, but, just as important, it uses the platform of the PGA Tour to elevate awareness of worthy causes in the communities where their husbands compete. Virtually all tour wives are involved with the PTWA to some degree, and many bring a background in the corporate world to charitable activities. Some, with their husbands, have charitable foundations of their own, including Jim and Tabitha Furyk, and Mark and Amy Wilson.
This year the PTWA hosted events at 16 tour stops, from the Sony Open in Hawaii in January to the Deutsche Bank Championship, 5,100 miles away in Norton, Mass., last week. Most of the programs the PTWA supports help children, such as Blessings in a Backpack, which provides weekend food to children who might not otherwise get enough to eat while away from school.
There is also involvement with Birdies for the Brave, domestic violence programs, projects against human trafficking, food pantries, soup kitchens, habitat construction, healthy snack options for youngsters and children's hospices.
"When you see them interact with these kids, they are just so passionate and just get right into it," says Sara Moores, executive director of the PTWA, who has been involved with the organization since its inception.
"They are there because they want to be," Moores says. "They could be what the image of them out there is: 'Well, I'm sure they just go out and shop.' But they are not. I see the true side of them, which is the side that is so giving and loving."
The PTWA slogan is: "Giving Time to Others; Giving Back to Communities; Giving Through Golf" and that is exactly what these women do. When the PTWA is involved in an event at a tournament, it is frequently helping a constituency that doesn't even know the PGA Tour is in town.
"Most of us are out here traveling 30-plus weeks a year," says Amy Wilson, wife of five-time tour winner Mark, who has been involved with the PTWA for eight years, six of those on the board and the last five as president. "And it's hard to get involved in things at home because you are on the road all the time. The road becomes our home, and these communities become our home."
Wilson says the PTWA has 150 members -- impressive when you consider there are only about 140 fully exempt players -- and 20 to 30 wives typically show up for an event.
Amy worked for Andersen Consulting, now Accenture, for five years and would help transition management changes at major corporations. Her experience at arranging details and interacting with corporate executives has been a huge asset to the PTWA.
The association sprung out of the first tour wives golf tournament, in which the husbands caddied, at the 1987 Players Championship. The event was such a success in raising money for TPC Village, which helps adolescents with substance-abuse issues, that some of the most active wives -- Barbara Nicklaus, Patsy Graham, Vicky Waldorf and Maria Floyd -- decided to form a group for charitable work.
barbara nicklaus
Roots of good work: Jack and Barbara Nicklaus (left) and Davis and Robin Love (bottom right) were part of a successful 1987 tour wives tournament that led to forming a group to help charitable causes.
"Patsy Graham was actually the driving force in getting the first Tour Wives' Association started," says Nicklaus, who was also instrumental in starting the organization, if for no other reason than because her husband was golf's greatest. The Nicklaus name gave the organization instant credibility, and in 1988 it incorporated.
"Quite a few of the husbands caddied [in the first PGA Tour Wives Classic], including Jack," says Barbara. "He appeared in a T-shirt with my name on it and used one of those robot caddie things. It was pretty funny. Jack got the award for the most advice given. He evidently told me 162 things in nine holes."
Barbara, whose involvement with the charitable component at the Honda Classic has helped revive that event, says the PTWA is a win-win situation. Not only do the charities gain financially and in terms of public awareness, but the wives gain as well.
"It was a great emotional boost for the wives," Nicklaus says. "We all thought that we were finally contributing something and [that] it was time well spent. We loved the fact that we were supporting so many charities around the country."
The work of the PTWA is in addition to the $1.7 billion PGA Tour events have generated for charity since 1938 and the overall $3.5 billion the National Golf Foundation says the game generates annually on all levels through charitable activities.
"No other sport gives back like golf does," says Bob Lohman, president of the board of trustees at the Ronald McDonald House in Fort Worth, which was the site of a PTWA event this year during the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. "The charities are so very thankful. We are in a tough economy, and we are thankful for the generosity of golf. You don't get better alone. What we provide here is a sense of a healing community."
When a group of wives cooked lunch at Ronald McDonald House in Fort Worth this year, it attracted local TV and newspaper coverage. The House, which was $500,000 short in a capital campaign to double the number of families it can help, needed the publicity. What it got was a very moving event.
Children in wheelchairs, on oxygen, hooked up to IVs or with the telltale scarves over bald heads, indicating chemotherapy for cancer, interacted with the wives, who told their personal stories as well as that of Ronald McDonald House to a wider audience. This was about much more than golf. It was about lives.
"For that one day, the focus is there because the PGA Tour wives are there, and it may be a story in the [local paper's] Lifestyle section or the Metro section, but we are lifting that one particular charity up," Moores says.