Lake Norman & Mooresville

Teen golfer meets 2 of the game’s best

Michael Sanders presents Jack and Barbara Nicklaus with a signed picture from the 24 players who raised funds for their charity.
Michael Sanders presents Jack and Barbara Nicklaus with a signed picture from the 24 players who raised funds for their charity.

As one of the co-directors of the Dormie Cup golf tournament, Michael Sanders was given the chance to meet a couple of professional golf’s all-time great players.

But what mattered most to the 15-year-old Davidson resident was helping plenty of people he will likely never meet: the charitable tournament’s beneficiaries.

Held two days in October at the Dormie Golf Club, near Pinehurst, the Dormie Cup is a match-play golf tournament in which some of North Carolina’s best junior golfers raise funds through an American Junior Golf Association program that benefits various charities. Five Lake Norman-area junior golfers, including Sanders, participated.

Sanders, a sophomore at Cannon School in Concord, and his other co-director were recognized by the Jack Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation on Nov. 21-22 at The Bear’s Club in Jupiter, Fla. Sanders met the famous golfer and his wife, Barbara. He also got to spend some leisure time with Rickie Fowler, one of professional golf’s most popular players.

“It was a lot of fun, but it was a really good learning experience,” said Sanders. “(Nicklaus) shared a lot of information about his golf game and serving others and giving back.”

The Dormie Cup has raised almost $240,000 for charity during its six years of play. This year’s event approached $40,000 in funds.

Each of the 24 players, who come from all over North Carolina, is expected to raise at least $1,000. They solicit donations from family, friends, acquaintances and community and business leaders.

The players are divided into teams of 12. Sanders and the event’s other co-director, Jimbo Stanley of Raleigh, alternated turns, selecting players for the teams each captained.

Players were paired with someone on the opposing team, according to ability, in a match play format. Sanders’ team was victorious and claimed the trophy, named the Dormie Cup.

The other Lake Norman area residents playing in this year’s event were Landson Robbins (Davidson, Cannon School), Patten Williams (Davidson, Cannon School), Braxton Tracy (Huntersville, Cannon School), and Ben Woodruff (Huntersville, Hough High). Many of them play regularly at River Run Country Club.

A couple of Sanders’ Cannon School teammates, Tim Bunten of Concord and Michael Childress of Salisbury, also played.

Robbins is a two-time Dormie Cup participant. He was an easy recruit for Sanders. They’ve been friends for nearly 10 years. Robbins has raised over $4,500 in two years.

“I think it’s a great event,” said Robbins, a Cannon sophomore. “It’s a lot of fun and to help the charities is an awesome thing to do. It makes me feel good that I help the children in need.”

The Lake Norman area has a rich history of supporting the Dormie Cup. Hough High graduate Patrick Cover and Thomas Walsh, of High Point, founded the event in 2010.

Sanders played in his first Dormie Cup in 2013. Cover and Walsh were getting ready to graduate from high school and were ready to turn over the tournament’s direction to someone else.

Fearing the event would fold without the necessary leadership, Sanders and his parents, James and Susan, agreed to accept the responsibility. Sanders has raised over $7,000 in three years.

The Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation, which collaborates with pediatric hospitals around the country, receives most of the money. The AJGA Ace Program and The First Tee of the Sandhills program also benefit.

“The tournament is fun,” said Williams, a Community School of Davidson junior. “On a Saturday, a couple of the First Tee players were there. … (Event organizers) explained the AJGA grant program and they had a video of the kids being helped at the Nicklaus children’s hospital (in Miami).”

Each year, the Nicklaus Foundation rewards the tournament’s top fundraisers with an invitation to its reception. This year, Sanders was invited as one of the Dormie Cup’s directors.

On Nov. 21, Sanders attended a breakfast where he and others from across the country who helped raise money for the Nicklaus Foundation were honored. The following day, those people were invited to play a round of golf with Fowler. Rain canceled the day on the course but the group, including Fowler, went bowling instead.

Sanders expects to continue organizing the Dormie Cup. He’ll start recruiting players and soliciting funds for the 2016 event next summer.

Sanders’ vision for the Dormie Cup reaches beyond North Carolina. He and his family have made initial contacts with junior golfers in other states, hoping to help them organize similar events where they live.

Joe Habina is a freelance writer: