Detroit — The fan ban at Detroit Golf Club next week threatened to significantly diminish the charitable giving afforded by the PGA Tour's second annual Rocket Mortgage Classic.
But, as it turns out, that might not actually be the case.
The tournament is on pace to nearly match or possibly even exceed last year's donation of more than $1.1 million, officials said recently.
"We think we can exceed it," said Jason Langwell, executive director of the Rocket Mortgage Classic. "Companies have come out and said, 'Look, we love the experience, but we also love the social good.'
"This is a huge opportunity here, a huge opportunity to solve an important problem."
When it was announced this spring that the Rocket Mortgage Classic would be carrying on without fans, tournament officials decided to change up the charity structure — and try to push funds toward initiatives spotlighted by the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. They decided on a long-term mission to end the digital divide in Detroit by the year 2025.
On Tuesday, tournament officials and officials from Rocket Mortgage and Quicken Loans detailed the plan, titled, "Changing the Course." The money collected, in partnership with the City of Detroit, will be the "Connect 313 Fund."
At its core, the program will aim to provide all Detroit residents access to technology, the Internet and digital-literacy resources.
Some estimate more than 30% of Detroit residents don't have access to the internet, or internet-compatible equipment.
“The 'Connect 313 Fund' will allow us to realize the dream — laid out by our ‘Connect 313’ program — of making Detroit a national model for digital inclusion,” Detroit mayor Mike Duggan said in a statement.
“By striving to provide all Detroiters with access to the digital world, technology and digital literacy, we can ensure they will also have access to the opportunity it brings.”
At the ground level of the "Changing the Course" initiative, there are four goals: Collecting accurate data on Detroit internet access, building neighborhood technology hubs, appointing neighborhood digital-literacy ambassadors, and supporting public advocacy for decreasing the digital divide.
The Rocket Mortgage Classic will be a major financial booster, not only this year, but in the future, as well.
Last year, tens of thousands of fans attended the golf tournament at Detroit Golf Club, with ticket sales and corporate donations accounting for the charitable giving to primary tournament beneficiaries such as Detroit Children’s Fund, Midnight Golf, The First Tee of Greater Detroit, the Greater Palmer Park Community and Detroit Golf Club Caddie Scholarship.
This year, primary beneficiaries are The Children's Foundation and the Greater Palmer Park Community, though last year's charities still could reap some benefits, albeit with money spearheaded toward technology.
The Rocket Mortgage Classic is losing its ticket money — it's event No. 4 on the PGA Tour's restart, which is going fanless through five events — but officials have seen a number of fans donate their ticket money back to the tournament, or defer their investment until next year. Additionally, Langwell said, more corporate donors have stepped up to help fight the digital divide. There's also much less infrastructure needed at Detroit Golf Club, without fans, saving the tournament significant money.
Funds also will be raised through the RMC's online merchandise store, at RocketMortgageClassic.com, which already has sold out once of the "Drive Detroit" T-shirt designed by students at the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, as well as through the Rocket Mortgage Fall Classic, a golf outing in September.
Funds also will be raised during the tournament, particularly in "Area 313," the signature stretch of holes at Detroit Golf Club, Nos. 14, 15 and 16. If any player goes 3-1-3 (eagle, hole-in-one, birdie) on those holes at any point in the tournament, set for July 2-5, a $313,000 donation will be made in their name. Also, throughout the tournament, a $5,000 donation will be made for every birdie on 16, a $25,000 donation will be made for any hole-in-one on No. 15 and a $5,000 donation will be made for every eagle on 14. That is expected to generate more than $200,000 in donations.
Fans can also pledge donations for "Area 313" by testing AREA313 to 243725 until the end of play, July 5.
"While the COVID-19 pandemic certainly magnified the digital divide, the reality is that nearly one in three Detroit families have lacked access to internet and digital resources for decades. It’s important to our entire organization, and our founder and chairman Dan Gilbert, that the Rocket Mortgage Classic serves as a driver of lasting change,” Jay Farner, CEO of Rocket Mortgage, said in a statement. “The Connect 313 Fund, alongside other primary beneficiaries, will allow us address long-lasting gaps in access to healthcare, education and employment, which are a consequence of the underlying lack of digital connectivity.
"We can collectively and collaboratively bridge the digital divide in Detroit once and for all.”
The United Way for Southeastern Michigan will oversee the Connect 313 Fund.