Philanthropist Jim McGlothlin is thinking big in his next golf fundraising venture

April 26, 2018

BRISTOL, Va.—The helicopter swooped low over the parking lot, made a gentle 180 and settled squarely in the first fairway of Olde Farm Golf Club. Out popped a smiling Jim McGlothlin, secure in the knowledge that he can land a helicopter anywhere he wants on this elite golf club in southern Virginia.

Because he’s the founder.

If there was a slightly deus ex machina quality to McGlothlin’s arrival Wednesday morning, it was fitting. He was coming to his club to announce a fundraiser — a massive fundraiser — for a cause that’s close to his heart: the Mountain Mission School in Grundy, Va.

McGlothlin aims to raise $35 million-$40 million for the school, enough so it can permanently cover its annual operating expenses with funds from its endowment.

The fundraiser is called the American Legends for Mountain Mission Kids. The Sept. 10 event will feature 10 celebrity team captains and 40 sponsors in an 18-hole competition at Olde Farm, a club that opened in 2000 and is now among America’s 200 Greatest Courses.

The celebrities: Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Betsy King, Lorena Ochoa, Lanny Wadkins, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino, Jerry West and former PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem.

Spectators will be able to attend the tournament, interact with the players, and bid on memorabilia at silent and live auctions. A recorded version of the event will appear later on CBS.

Sponsors have already committed to more than $17 million, says Tournament Director Ted Wood. Among the larger contributors: grocery chain Food City, Gregory Pharmaceuticals and McGlothlin himself.

The event stands to be the largest single-day PGA Tour-sanctioned fundraiser ever, says McGlothlin.

The previous record—held by another McGlothlin event benefiting the Mountain Mission School—was just north of $15 million. Known as the Big 3 and played at Olde Farm in 2010, it featured Nicklaus, Player and Arnold Palmer.

The Mountain Mission School was founded in 1921 and is home to 250-300 at-risk students a year, ranging from toddlers to high schoolers. These kids tend to come from low-income families, often having experienced violence or drug problems in their homes. Some are refugees from foreign war zones.

The non-denominational Christian school claims a 95 percent graduation rate, and of those who go on to college, it says 95 percent get their degrees within four years. Virtually all of them leave college debt-free, thanks to the United Co., a diversified energy and financial services company whose chairman and CEO is… Jim McGlothlin.

McGlothlin first visited the Mountain Mission School 54 years ago and “it changed my life.” He’s been a board member for 30 years. “It gives these kids a chance at life they would never have had,” he says. “And they’re just so sweet. All they want is a chance at life.”

Roughly $6 million from 2010’s Big 3 fundraiser went toward a new academic building at the school, McGlothlin says. The remaining $9 million went to the endowment, which has grown to about $15 million today. The rules say the school can use no more than 5 percent of its endowment each year for operating expenses. These expenses total about $4.5 million, or $15,000 a student. (Which is pretty remarkable when you consider this includes clothing, feeding, sheltering and teaching them.)

In the past, the school has counted on big contributions from coal companies to cover the gap between money from its endowment and its annual expenses. But with the coal industry in the dumps, those donations have vanished, notes McGlothlin. (Side note: He made the bulk of his own fortune in coal before selling that business in 2009.) This latest fundraiser aims to build the endowment so high, it can withdraw 5 percent a year and cover all of the school’s expenses.

Are you getting the impression McGlothlin likes to think big? A few years ago, he helped raise a record $100 million for The First Tee, a program that introduces kids to golf and the life lessons it teaches.

“I’ve told a lot of wealthy people, ‘We didn’t get all this money just to die with it,’ ” McGlothlin explains. “There’s no trailer hook to your casket, you know? If you do this during your lifetime, it’s the warmest, most wonderful feeling. Especially with kids. Kids can’t help themselves. We can. And then all these kids can go help other people.”