Travelers Championship

TPC River Highlands

Davis Love III: Doing good work in small places


Dale Stephanos

December 06, 2018

Editor's Note: Jim Nantz, Darius Rucker and Davis Love III are the latest winners of The Arnie Award, an honor given by Golf Digest in association with the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and Monterey Peninsula Foundation to celebrate Golfers Who Give Back. The trio will be recognized during a special ceremony in February during the week of the PGA Tour event in Pebble Beach.

Davis Love III is cruising around St. Simons Island, Ga., on the premise of cadging a driver shaft from one of the dozen or so PGA Tour players who also live in the area. “I’m not sure if it’s the shaft or the fact I’m using a driver from 2013, but I’m hitting it all over the place,” he says. Just back from his first tournament of the new season, he adds, “I really need to play and practice more. But there are so many distractions.”

The “distractions” turn out to be pleasant. Love, 54, is also performing neighborly checkins on businesses and individuals who help support the PGA Tour’s RSM Classic played at Sea Island Golf Club. Love has served as the tournament host since 2010, and he monitors goings-on in the manner of a small-town mayor. Along with myriad details a tour host typically attends to (he dreads being asked for input on sponsor’s exemptions), the drive also entails checking in on recipients of funds from the Davis Love Foundation, through which more than $9 million in charity from the RSM Classic has flowed in eight years. The sight of Love—“Uncle Davis,” as he’s referred to by younger tour players—tooling around during his off-weeks is part of the Sea Island landscape.

Playing golf is still foremost among Love’s priorities. After hip-replacement surgery a year ago, he plans to play in 20-plus tournaments this season between the regular and Champions tours. It would be the most since 2016, when he had arthroscopic surgery on an ailing left hip, followed in 2017 by a broken collarbone and then the full left-hip replacement. He feels capable of adding to his 21-victory total, which includes the 1997 PGA Championship. But judging by the amount of time he devotes to discussing the Davis Love Foundation and RSM’s involvement, it’s clear he’ll have different objectives in the not-too-distant future. As Love sees it, that path ideally would be similar to that of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, who in their post-playing careers not only took their golf-course design businesses into overdrive but devoted tremendous time and influence building their charities.

There is the powerful Birdies Fore Love, an effort fueled substantially by RSM employees, which in 2017 raised more than $2 million. A new feature of Birdies Fore Love is a program whereby the three PGA Tour players who make the most birdies in an eight-tournament swing receive a total of $500,000 they can distribute to the charities of their choice. There also is the Friends of the Davis Love Foundation, in which charities sell raffle tickets for $20, with the winner receiving a new car donated by a dealership. (One-hundred percent of the money from the raffle is given back to the charities that participate.) There’s also a $75,000 bonus pool as reward for selling lots of tickets.

“What impresses me is what is being done in small markets like ours,” Love says. “I just got back from Calgary and the Shaw Charity Classic and was blown away by the fact they’ve raised $22 million in the last five years. That’s up there with the biggest tournaments anywhere. The John Deere went over $12 million just for 2017. They’re serious numbers.”

Love has been a soft touch for charities his entire career. “When I was a little kid, my dad [the famous instructor Davis Love Jr.] was the head pro at Atlanta Country Club, which hosted the old Atlanta Classic. I remember him selling shirts in the merchandise tent, with the profits going to charity. He and my mom [Penta Love] always impressed on me the importance of giving back.” The work of the Davis Love Foundation began in 2005, well before RSM (formerly McGladrey) joined up with Love. And the foundation’s work isn’t limited to what is raised through the RSM Classic. Love is active in the St. Simons Land Trust, which through the efforts of big hitters such as Bill Jones and Jim Kennedy has helped improve the island by building parks, bike paths and preserving green spaces. Love has a special affection for Boys & Girls Clubs, Special Olympics and a program called Blessings in a Backpack that provides food during the weekends for needy elementary-school children.

Much of what Love does falls outside of the purview of the Davis Love Foundation. Remember his dust-up with a heckling fan during the Accenture Match Play showdown against Tiger Woods in 2004? Love, feeling it wasn’t his finest moment, donated his $700,000 winnings to his church. “So much of what we players do stays under the radar,” he says. “The PGA Tour is getting close to $3 billion in formal charities, but when you factor in the things players do quietly, it has to be much larger than that.”

It’s also a family affair. Love’s wife, Robin, puts together and hosts the RSM Classic Yamaha pro-am draw party, held at their home and attended by 340 people, and continues to assist with Safe Harbor Children’s Shelter. The Loves’ daughter, Lexie Whatley, is event coordinator for the RSM Classic.

We ask Love if there was a moment when the impact of his efforts hit home. “A while back, I was on one of these afternoon drives around the island, when a big blue bus pulls up near me,” he says. “On the side was the RSM Classic logo, our foundation’s logo and a large picture of smiling children. The bus was en route from a local school to the Boys & Girls Club across town, and it was packed with kids. That sight alone made me think, Hey, we’re doing some good things around here.


Dale Stephanos