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Tiger Woods is ‘icing on the cake’

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VERONA, N.Y. – While Notah Begay III admitted having Tiger Woods participate in this year’s Foundation Challenge is the “icing on the cake,” he said the event “wouldn’t exist without all the players.”

Woods and Begay will be joined by Mike Weir and Camilo Villegas, who both played in last year’s challenge.

The relationship between Woods, who is currently ranked No. 1 in the world, and Begay, a three-time All-American, dates back to Stanford University where they were teammates and roommates in the mid-90s.

“There is such a track record within reservation communities introducing programs that aren’t sustainable; we’re trying to develop concepts and ideas that will be around for 20 years. If we work hard enough we can develop these types of programs.” – Notah Begay III

Begay feels this personal relationship helped secure Woods’ participation.

“To be quite honest I asked him once and he said ‘I’ll be there,’” Begay said at a press conference held July 6 at the Turning Stone Resort and Casino.

“Notah has been a friend for many years, and I am happy to support him in his commitment to Native American youth,” Woods said in a press release.

In fact, Begay believes all the participants play to help support the foundation; “these guys show up because they believe in what we’re doing.”

Villegas, a native of Colombia, is currently ranked No. 12 in the world and has two PGA Tour titles. Weir, the 2003 Master’s Champion, is currently ranked No. 24 and is an eight-time PGA Tour winner.

The inaugural challenge brought in almost $200,000 for the Notah Begay III Foundation; with Woods on board Begay expects to bring in three to four times that much.

“I think they’re going to start a class at Stanford – ‘Tiger Economics,’” he joked, adding that the “Tiger Factor” is sure to sell hotel rooms and bring plenty of other revenue to the area.

“We’re not in a major metropolitan area,” said Oneida Nation Representative and CEO Ray Halbritter. “We need these kinds of events to bring people to the area.”

Woods wasn’t able to attend last year’s challenge because of a season-ending knee injury, so he’s never played at the Atunyote Golf Club.

“I’m not going to give him any tips; if the putt breaks right, I’m going to tell him left because he’s so darn good,” Begay joked. “Mike and I got shut out last year and everything I win is going to the foundation, so I don’t want that to happen again.”

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Started in 2005 by Begay, who was battling a back injury at the time, and his father, the foundation has faced challenges and had some great successes.

“The biggest problem we face is we’re young, we’re small and unable to accommodate the need.” Begay expects the high profile names at this year’s challenge will “exponentially increase awareness about the foundation’s activities,” as well as give the resort and area national exposure. “The money with this event will only strengthen our ability to use those resources in an efficient and effective manner.

“Last year’s money allowed us to bring on an executive director, Crystal Echo Hawk.” Her current focus is on developing the foundation’s infrastructure and policies.

Begay’s goal for the foundation is “steady but sustainable growth.”

“There is such a track record within reservation communities introducing programs that aren’t sustainable; we’re trying to develop concepts and ideas that will be around for 20 years. If we work hard enough we can develop these types of programs.”

The foundation boasts soccer and golf programs for Native youth. About 150 kids participate in the soccer program and more than 200 in golf programs, both of which, according to Begay, have a “positive impact on self-esteem, obesity and on performance in the classroom.”

Halbritter is proud of Begay’s accomplishments as the only American Indian on the PGA Tour. He said Begay is an “inspiration to youth nationally.”

“Notah Begay’s Foundation Challenge serves as a pathway for helping American Indian youth today and seven generations to the future,” he said. “The Oneida Indian Nation is again proud to be a partner in the good work of this charitable cause.”

The San Manuel Band of Serrano Mission Indians is collaborating with the Oneida Nation in sponsorship of the event. “Everyone involved in this tournament is making a statement that they stand in support of elevating the quality of life in tribal communities across the nation,” said San Manuel Chairman James Ramos in a press release.

Begay thanked the event sponsors by saying, “we have two very successful tribal businesses going above and beyond to redistribute wealth to Native communities.”

The NB3 Foundation Challenge will be held Monday, Aug. 24 at Atunyote Golf Club and is a skins game with a total purse of $500,000. A player who wins a hole outright wins the money or “skin” associated with that hole. In this challenge, the first six holes are worth $10,000 each, the second six $20,000, holes 13 through 17 are worth $50,000 each and the 18th hole is worth $70,000. If no player wins the hole, the “skin” is carried over to the next hole.

The challenge will be limited participation because Begay is hoping for an “intimate setting.” He wants to “get fans as close to the action as possible without making the players uncomfortable.”

Tickets are available at the Turning Stone box office by calling (315) 361-SHOW or (800) 745-3000.

Editor’s note: Indian Country Today is a division of Four Directions Media, which is owned by Oneida Nation Enterprises, LLC.