Darren Clarke is giving back to the adopted home that’s given him so much. He’s not alone in golf and the larger professional sports community.
The devastation that powerful Hurricane Dorian wrought in the northern Bahamas, particularly on the islands of Grand Bahama and Great Abaco, left Clarke with a “heavy heart.” The former major champion and European Ryder Cup captain has been a fixture at The Abaco Club on Winding Bay since it opened in 2004; he married his wife seven years ago on its white sand beach, won the club’s bone-fishing tournament in 2015 and visits regularly when he’s not on the road for tournaments or back home in Northern Ireland.
While golf is unquestionably an afterthought during a humanitarian crisis, the game plays a vital role in the Bahamas, where more than 60 percent of the gross domestic product is dependent on tourism, the most of any Caribbean nation. And golf has always been an incredibly strong vehicle for charitable and philanthropic causes, raising almost $4 billion annually within the U.S.
“To see all this devastation in Marsh Harbour, the northern Cays and Grand Bahama is truly heartbreaking,” Clarke said. “It’s one of the most beautiful places in the world and will be again, but we need help right now for the people still there. We need water, fuel and non-perishable foods. Please help, no matter how big or how small it will make a difference.”
The Abaco Club launched a fund-raising effort dedicated to providing immediate disaster relief for residents of Great Abaco island, which incurred widespread destruction when the slow-moving category 5 hurricane made landfall with heavy rain and sustained winds of 185 miles-per-hour. The club is just over 20 miles away from the island’s largest town, Marsh Harbour, which was almost completely destroyed. The death toll continues to rise and thousands of residents are without shelter after losing their homes; some neighborhoods were left completely under water while others are a twisted jumble of splintered wood and debris.
David Southworth, the Founder and CEO of Southworth Development, an affiliate of which owns The Abaco Club, called the situation in Marsh Harbour a “humanitarian disaster on an almost unimaginable scale.” More than $1.5 million has been donated to the GoFundMe campaign, with contributions distributed by the Abaco-Winding Bay Relief Fund, a 501(c)3 charitable organization created expressly for this effort. Joe Deitch, the Chairman of Southworth Development, pledged an additional $1 million to the relief effort and members of The Abaco Club and other Southworth clubs and communities have contributed over $900,000 to date.
All funds received will be used to provide assistance specifically to the people of Abaco in the form of food, shelter, medical aid and supplies, and assistance in the clean-up and rebuilding efforts.
“Sometimes the worst of circumstances brings out the best in people,” said Southworth. “But this will be a long, three-step process. First, it’s getting food and shelter for those in need. Then it’s temporary housing, and finally it’s rebuilding.”
Clarke actively promoted the relief efforts through social media, as have fellow golfers such as Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, who have been frequent visitors to Baker’s Bay Golf & Ocean Club on the hard-hit Abaco island of Great Guyana Cay.
In addition to an initial donation, Thomas has pledged $1,000 for every birdie he makes for the rest of the year and urged other professional golfers to join him in the “Birdies for the Bahamas” campaign.
Tiger Woods is also heavily involved in the relief, recovery and rebuilding efforts, teaming up with singer and actor Justin Timberlake as well as Nexus, RBC and the luxury resort community of Albany, Bahamas, to create the ONE Bahamas Fund. The fund was established with a $6 million challenge gift, meaning it will match any public donations dollar for dollar up to $6 million.
“Help us turn this first $6 million into $12 million, and join our efforts to restore and rebuild The Bahamas,” Woods wrote on Twitter. Woods has vacationed in the Bahamas numerous times and Albany, which wasn’t affected by Dorian, plays host every year to his Hero World Challenge tournament that benefits Woods’s TGR Foundation.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady shared details of Discovery Land Company Foundation’s Abaco Relief Fund. All donations to the 501(c)(3) non-profit charity will go directly to those in need, most immediately helping with evacuations, medical aid, drinking water, food and shelter.
“Our family has been traveling to the beautiful paradise of The Abacos for many years and we are devastated by the events of this tragic hurricane,” Brady wrote in an Instagram post. “While visiting we’ve built relationships with the incredible Bahamians who call these islands home, and now it’s our responsibility to help them.”
World Golf Hall-of-Famer Greg Norman also championed the relief efforts after sharing video clips he received from friends in the Bahamas of the devastating flooding and the damage caused by the hurricane. Norman is the designer of the Sandals Emerald Bay Course, which has six holes on the coastline of Great Exuma, and a frequent visitor to the Bahamas.
While that resort, which hosts the Korn Ferry Tour’s Bahamas Great Abaco Classic, was unscathed by the hurricane, it is supporting relief efforts through the Sandals Foundation.
“I encourage not just all those who have been blessed to experience the magnificent beauty of the Bahamas and the Bahamian people, but everyone to do all you can to help,” Norman wrote on Instagram. “Recovery will be long and painful but we MUST all help. I know I will be.”
There are more than 700 islands, cays and islets that make up the Bahamas spread over almost 180,000 square miles of ocean. Because of that expanse, some areas – particularly the northern Bahamas – suffered catastrophic damage, while others were largely untouched.
At The Abaco Club, the storm surge damaged the beach, felled trees, blew out some windows and destroyed a few smaller outbuildings, but the damage was mostly minor and manageable despite the mass destruction in nearby Marsh Harbor.
The Grand Lucayan Resort on the northernmost island of Grand Bahama remains closed as it recovers from the impact of Hurricane Dorian, having served as a temporary shelter for displaced island residents in the storm’s aftermath. Three of the 12 golf courses in the Bahamas are on Grand Bahama, including the Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed Reef Course at Grand Lucayan.
Many resorts and hotels on other islands in the Bahamas remain open for business, including the Bahamas capital of Nassau and neighboring Paradise Island. Dionisio D’Aguilar, Bahamas’ minister of tourism and aviation, has implored travelers to continue visiting as tourism is vital to the nation’s recovery efforts. He also highlighted the website Bahamas.com/relief as a way to provide additional support through verified charitable arms.
Meanwhile, the golf world will continue to do what it can to help.