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Tampa Bay Buccaneers


The inaugural Tampa Bay Buccaneers golf classic, designed to raise funds for the Children’s Cancer Center, was such a perfect day that it promises to become an annual event


Head Coach Jon Gruden gave his group a shot at an eagle on the par-5 12th hole at Tampa Palms

Jon Gruden kicked off Monday's activities with a rather frank and startling admission about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers players gathered around him: "All of these players here stink."

Fortunately, Gruden and about 15 Buccaneer stars spent Monday engaged in a round of golf, not punt, pass and kick. And, fortunately, not all of the celebrity duffers at the "first annual" Tampa Bay Buccaneers Golf Classic were as bad as Gruden jokingly claimed they would be.

Sure, there were some shanks during the afternoon, and more than a few dimpled orbs are now sleeping with the fishes in the various water hazards dotting the beautiful Tampa Palms golf course. But there were also more than a few majestic drives, laser-guided chips and clutch putts on display, by the Buc representatives and their charity-minded foursomes. And for every Titleist that is now the featured attraction on a nature hike, another helpful sum of money will find its way to the Children's Cancer Center.

For the record, the straight-shooting fivesome of linebacker Barrett Ruud, Jon Finkel, Daniel Parker, Loren Hendley and Bucs Director of Team Services Tom Szubka were the day's winning team, hitting the clubhouse with a score of 60, thanks in large part to the tournament's scramble format. The group led by wide receiver Ike Hilliard also carded a 12-under par 60 but lost the top spot on the back-nine tiebreaker. Coming in third was the crew led by safety Will Allen and assistant defensive backs Coach Jimmy Lake.

The real winners, of course, were those helped by the Children's Cancer Center, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing children who have cancer or chronic blood disorders and their families with the emotional, financial and educational support necessary to cope with their life-threatening illnesses. The Center helps pediatric hematology/oncology patients adapt to chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, transfusions and other forms of treatment and cope with changes in their bodies, their family structures and their normal daily activities.

And that's why the Bucs' head coach, flanked by dozens of golf carts lined up like a small assault force by the Tampa Palms clubhouse, felt comfortable sending those generous individuals who had purchased spots in the tournament into the breach with his own unpredictable crew of linebackers and running backs.

"What we're doing today is for a great cause – I want everybody to keep that in mind," said Gruden to the crowd of golfers, just before the tournament got under way on a relentlessly beautiful afternoon. "Hopefully, they have some helmets here for everybody to put on when the [Buccaneer] players tee off. But this is a great opportunity to make new friends, and we all need friends."

Gruden became fast friends with his group from Pewter Partner BB&T, particularly when he nailed one of the day's best shots on the par-five 12. From a spot on the fairway from which most groups had laid up in front of the creek that protected a raised green, Gruden went Tin Cup, shooting for and nailing the green. The ball stuck pin high, about 15 feet out.

Gruden's group was trailing that of General Manager Bruce Allen, which had just finished a marathon putting session on the 12th green. Witnessing Gruden's surprising drive as he drove off towards the 13th, Allen snuck back onto the 12th green and pilfered the ball, leaving a small marker. Gruden was shocked when he arrived to see an unoccupied green, but he appreciated the joke when a Bucs staffer flipped him the ball. Even though Gruden's crew would miss the opportunity for an eagle by failing on five straight putts, the whole episode reflected the day's mood. The golf may not have been perfect, but it was fun.

"It's a great day," said Allen, mere moments before Gruden's shot hit the green. "As you can see, everyone's smiling and it's for a great cause."

Obviously, the Bucs plan to make Monday's tournament an annual event, and there may be increased competition for the celebrity spots when this year's players report back to their teammates. The tourney was run flawlessly, with multiple food and beverage stations and a variety of holes featuring special prizes. No one drove away with the Dodge Viper on 17 or the Jeep Commander on 13, but the traditional "Closest to the Pin" and "Longest Drive" competitions on 2 and 5 paid off handsomely. Those games within the game were swept by women, as Penny Hulbert of Emerald Star Casino & Resorts, Inc. hit the longest drive and WFLA's Carole Ward was closest to the pin on the fifth green.

Among the Buccaneer players who participated in the tournament were Ruud, Allen, Hilliard, quarterback Chris Simms, wide receiver Michael Clayton, running backs Cadillac Williams and Michael Pittman, tight ends Alex Smith and Anthony Becht, kicker Matt Bryant, linebacker Shelton Quarles and defensive linemen Chris Hovan and Dewayne White. Linebackers Coach Joe Barry and Tight Ends Coach Ron Middleton also took their swings, and a number of other players and coaches, including Monte Kiffin, Art Valero and Paul Hackett, skipped the links but showed up for the dinner.

Simms, who accompanied a spirited bunch from Pewter Partner Hess, didn't win any prizes but he did swing the clubs well for a relative novice, particularly since he was using his new set for the first time. Simms still spends more time playing basketball than golf, but he does enjoy the sport and appeared to be something of a natural.

"Follow me and I'll give you a wildlife tour," cracked Simms, just before hitting a low, straight drive that earned him some "attaboys" from his partners. His next shot showed touch, a chip over water that settled within 20 feet of the hole, though he lipped out the subsequent long putt attempt.

"I'm not a big player yet but I watch it on TV all the time," said Simms. "I just didn't want to come out here and embarrass myself. I had fun doing it, though, and I did okay. I grew up with my dad playing golf, so I've been to the driving range plenty of times. And this is definitely a good cause. Plus, it's good to see guys on the team get out here the day before we start practicing again and have a good time with these folks. It's a good event."

The post-tournament dinner was no hardship, either. All of the participants enjoyed yet another wonderful meal while emcee J.P. Peterson of WFLA-TV announced the day's prizewinners. The dinner was also livened up by a silent auction featuring a large collection of valuable, one-of-a-kind items.

As Simms suggested, the Bucs will be back on the practice field on Tuesday morning, beginning a three-day run of "organized team activity" workouts. Monday's workout will seem like a stroll in the park by comparison…and in a way, it was. A leisurely afternoon spent on a well-manicured golf course raising money for a very deserving organization…beats wind sprints any day.


Sign Up Now for the 2007 Classic

The 2007 Tampa Bay Buccaneers Golf Classic promises to be even more spectacular - and popular - than Monday's inaugural event.

Don't wait to reserve your spot in the 2007 Classic! A waiting list has been formed and the team is already taking submissions.

Click here to fill out and submit a registration form for next year's tournament.

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