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The Villages
Thursday, March 16, 2023

13th Annual Marine Corps League Toys for Tots Golf Classic held at Havana

The Col. Phillip C. DeLong Marine Corps. League Detachment honor guard presented the colors at sunrise.
The Col. Phillip C. DeLong Marine Corps. League Detachment honor guard presented the colors at sunrise.

Beginning before sunrise on Saturday, the Havana Country Club was buzzing with activity as waves of golfers checked in for the 13th Annual Villages Marine Corps. League Detachment #1267’s Toys for Tots Golf Classic.

Chris Debusk
Chris Debusk

After sampling tasty breakfast fare and steaming java, the players witnessed the presentation of the Colors by the Col. Phillip C. DeLong MCL Detachment honor guard at 7:15 a.m. Once event organizer, Fred Geier (Col. USMC Ret.), and the Havana Country Club’s Chris DeBusk, explained the tournament rules, golf carts rolled steadily through the underground tunnel toward the starting line with military precision — and the event was under way.

This was Geier’s seventh year managing the large undertaking, which included morning and afternoon waves of hundreds of golfers on the Hemingway, Kenya and Kilimanjaro nines.

In order to accommodate the large number of players, a foursome began the scramble on every single hole. Dozens of volunteer hole watchers and country club staff were on the course  manage the pace of play and guide the players’ through their rotations. This was no simple task, since a foursome wh ich began on the sixth hole on Kenya might terminate their round on the fifth hole of Kilimanjaro, etc., in a smoothly orchestrated flow.

Combat Veterans to Careers volunteers, Bruce Staples, ​'Scooter' Michael Miller, Ray Johnson & Michael Staples, made a very colorful foursome.
Combat Veterans to Careers volunteers, Bruce Staples, ​’Scooter’ Michael Miller, Ray Johnson & Michael Staples, made a very colorful foursome.

Many players wore Marine Corps. red golf shirts or red, white and blue patriotic garb. Perhaps the most colorful foursome included Combat Veterans to Careers program volunteers: ‘Scooter’ Michael Miller from Lady Lake, Palo Alto Villager Ray Johnson, Mallory Villager Bruce Staples and his son, Michael Staples, visiting from Bradenton.

The gents enjoyed hot cups of caffeine and breakfast cakes on the dark terrace, wearing matching red shorts, caps and striped logo shirts. “We’re not really awake yet,” Bruce Staples mumbled, “but the weatherman said it was going to be a good day — no rain.” The fellows recalled the soggy 2014 tourney, which included intermittent  showers. “We play this every year,” Ray Johnson said. “This is a great tournament and a great cause.”

Another foursome of repeat players, registered for their sixth consecutive year, were Marge Farrell, Donna Moore, Bonnie Richter and Martha Schuldiner, all from Sunset Ridge Village. “We love to golf together, and we sometimes shop together too,” Moore said, pointing to their matching printed  tops. “This is a great tournament — it helps so many needy children.”

Being in a position to help local children clearly energizes Fred Geier, Ralph Files (Captain, USMC Ret.) and other Marine Corps. League leaders, who have worked for many months to iron out all the tournament details. The event was an early sell-out.

“We never like to turn away applicants but, as happened last year, there were  so many golfers who wanted to take part, and we didn’t have room for them,” Geier said. “I suppose we should be happy all the  spots filled  up quickly; but we would have liked to be able to give everyone who wanted to play the opportunity.”

“Including sponsorships and donations, we netted more than $31,000 in 2014,” he continued, “and our current goal is to have some fun and surpass $35,000 this year.”

Fred Geier welcomed the crowd.
Fred Geier welcomed the crowd.

Fred Geier expressed his gratitude to Mark Sorensen, president of the Royal Fund Management group, and other key sponsors — including Chiropractic USA, Citrale Citrus Juices, Inc., Richard Godfrey, JetBlue, Mark/Trece, Inc, and Munn’s, who have stepped up to the tee year after year with generous financial support. Upscale golf-oriented  gift baskets and other useful raffle and silent auction items filled a long table at the clubhouse.

One might not expect someone like Glenbrook Villager, Fred Geier, who commanded the ‘Marine One’ squadron of presidential helicopters — for both presidents Reagan and Clinton, world leaders and royalty — to be excited about toys — but nothing softens his face into a smile faster than seeing the happy children receiving the Toys for Tots largesse each Christmas. “Every child deserves to have a Merry Christmas,” he said, “and the Marine Corps. does everything it can to make that happen. Toys for Tots is an official Marine Corps. League and Marine Corps. Reserve charity activity nation-wide. “

The toys go to local children in Central Florida…. and 98 cents of each donated dollar benefits the children. The charity’s name is something of a misnomer, however, because the term ‘tots’ doesn’t just mean toddlers. The charity benefits  the needy — from infancy through age 12.

Donors have no difficulty choosing unwrapped toys for  babies and for boys . Sports items, toy trucks, science and space program items are popular gifts. Generous individuals often find it a challenge,  however, to select items ‘tween age’ girls would enjoy. Some girls ages 8 through 12, who have grown past playing with dolls, also   like sports and science items . Other good suggestions include games, kits for creative projects like beading and sewing; art supplies (like acrylic or watercolor paints and pads of art paper); hats ,  handbags and books.

Lunch was provided to the players, as was a seated gourmet dinner, catered by the Havana Country Club chef and staff. The awards banquet was held at Sea Breeze Regional Recreation Center later in the evening.

The Villages Marine Corps. League meets the third Monday of each month at 7 p.m. at the Bacall Recreation Center. In addition to Toys for Tots, the league awards scholarships to outstanding local high school graduating seniors and is active in a variety of other charitable causes. They welcome inquiries from former Marines and Navy Corpsmen to join their ranks. For information, call Roy Thacker at 352 259-1563.

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