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Golf teams prepare for Native American Cup tournament

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho – Golf teams are already forming in preparation for the 2006 Native American Cup, presented by Charter Communications, to be held Aug. 4 – 6 at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa north of Traverse City, Mich. The resort is owned and operated by the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.

First, though, golfers will be competing in tribal or regional events to determine who will make up the teams. Henry Boulley, board chairman of the NAC, explained that there are three divisions. “The Tribal Division is just for tribal members or Natives employed by the tribe. So far, three teams have confirmed and another three, from the Michigan/Minnesota/

Wisconsin area, have told us they are interested in coming.” Confirmed are the host tribes: the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, the Seneca Nation and the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe.

The Seneca Nation will hold a two-day qualifying event on May 20 and 21 at Elkdale Country Club in Salamanca, N.Y., to select the top 12 qualifiers for the team. Adrian Stevens, Seneca tribal councilman and team organizer, commented, “We are proud to play in this prestigious event, which provides scholarships to Native youth throughout the country. We also look forward to visiting the land of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians for fun and sport.”

“The Associate Division allows tribes that don’t have a lot of members the opportunity to play by joining forces,” Boulley explained. “We also have three confirmed in that division: Team Oklahoma, Team Native America and Team NAFOA.”

He explained that Team Native America is made up of tribal chairmen, Native bankers and businessmen, and Native news media. “We do that team ourselves and bring people in from around the country so they can play and see what the event is all about; and then hopefully they say, ‘Hey, this was fun. We’ll come back next year with our own state teams.’”

That strategy apparently works, as a couple of this year’s teams’ members played on Team Native America last year.

Team NAFOA is unique in that it’s composed of golfers who are members of the Native American Finance Officers Association or golfers who support the organization. NAFOA holds a golf tournament in conjunction with its annual meeting, and the top three finishing all-Native foursomes in its tournament will represent NAFOA in the NAC. That tournament will be held May 2 at Rhodes Ranch Golf Course in Las Vegas.

Team Oklahoma will be selected at a 36-hole scratch tournament to be held at the Cherokee Casino Resort in Tulsa, Okla., on May 8. The top 13 finishers will make up their team for the NAC. “We are honored to host the Oklahoma Golf Classic,” said David Stewart, CEO of Cherokee Nations Enterprises and operator of Cherokee Casino Resort, in a news release.

The third division is the Sponsors Division. “Theirs is a two-day tournament for foursomes, and we’ve got six confirmed corporate teams,” Boulley said. “Another six have said they’re interested, so we may have 12 foursomes in that division.”

On Aug. 3, prior to the three-day competition, a Native golf celebrity has been lined up to play a round with some of the corporate sponsors and to conduct a Native youth golf clinic.

“Last year, four-time PGA Tour winner Notah Begay III was our celebrity. Notah was absolutely fantastic with the sponsors and Native youth, and really showed us all what one could do with talent, dedication and continuing education,” Boulley said.

“This year we have Cheryl Tooshkenig Mitchell coming. Cheryl is North America’s first Native American female professional golfer. She plays on the Futures Tour, attempting to earn her LPGA tour card. Cheryl is super,” Boulley added. “Like Notah, Cheryl is a great role model to our Native youth. We are proud to have her come and play in our event.”

The event is more than just a golf tournament. “The result of the whole thing is that we award scholarships to Natives that are entering college in the fall,” Boulley explained.

“Since we’re a fairly new nonprofit organization, we don’t have time to go through a ton of scholarship applications. One of the perks of playing in the Tribal Division is that teams that play can select, through their education departments, their own recipient of a scholarship.” Scholarships will remain at the $2,000 level, like last year, and it’s hoped that this year about $10,000 will be awarded to Native students. Recipients will receive their scholarships during the awards banquet on Aug. 6.

The NAC, based in Michigan, is a Native-operated nonprofit organization whose goal is to increase awareness and opportunities in continuing education for American Indians. Funds come from a variety of fund-raisers, but the signature event is the tournament.