Beautiful food, the best of friends and family, generous hearts, a round of golf on a top-rated course, and hope for the families of dying children converge every summer to offer one of the most memorable events of my year.
I was reminded of this the other day when I saw a couple of photos on Facebook taken a few summers ago that, for me, encompass all that is wonderful about the James Fund for Neuroblastoma Research and the fundraising golf tournament it has hosted for the past six years at the Kawartha Golf and Country Club.
The photos in question were taken months after the annual tournament when 20 people gathered at the home of my close friends, Rhonda and Brad Walst, to indulge in an exquisite feast that every year is the top auction item at the event — courtesy of one of Peterborough’s finest chefs, Brad Watt of Rare Grill House, and his lovely wife, Katie.
In so many ways, the James Fund Golf Classic is vastly different than any other tournament I’ve been to. Even though it takes place at one of the top courses in Ontario, the golf is not the highlight of the day; it’s what happens afterwards that captures the imagination.
I’ve never been to a golf tournament where non-golfers arrive after the round to enjoy drinks, fine food, entertainment, and a silent and live auction for items that are truly memorable, all generously donated by too many people to name.
The Oyster Bar that Roland Hosier of St. Veronus Café and Tap Bar puts on every year is the centerpiece of the cocktail hour. During dinner, I’ve heard Canadian stage star Michael Burgess bring the crowd to tears with his voice as he channelled Les Miserables’ Jean Valjean, I’ve met survivors of the deadly childhood cancer the James Fund is fighting, and I’ve spoken with families who find hope through the annual retreat the tournament supports.
I’ve met others whose children will run and play no more in our world because of this terrible disease, and in their strength and resilience I find inspiration. They carry on, honouring the memory of their children, their brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews; quenching the pain of their loss with a tenacious will to protect others from future sorrow.
It’s sad and it’s beautiful.
The summer the photos I mention were taken, our group at the tournament was determined to outbid others for the Rare catered dinner. At first, Brad Watt told the crowd we were bidding on a dinner for eight — but that number soon rose to 20.
Fresh PEI lobster would be flown in, Watt promised, wine would be paired to each course, the beef would be the finest of aged cuts, and the freshest local ingredients would spark each bite. He’d spare no effort to create a night worthy of memory.
With assurances of help from others, my brother and his wife kept upping the bid as the ante rose and a few months later, on a beautiful late-summer day, we gathered at Brad and Rhonda’s to share a remarkable evening.
We ate like kings and, for that evening, cares and worries evaporated, though never far from our minds was the vital importance of the cause we were supporting. I’d sat at that table many times before when worry was all there was — the first time I’d ever heard of neuroblastoma was when Brad and Rhonda were struggling with their son’s diagnosis.
My heart broke with theirs as their son, James, went through surgeries and treatments to combat the cancerous cells wrapped around his spine, as did the hearts of the friends gathered around their dinner table that August night.
Today, we share in the joy of each positive visit James has at Toronto’s Sick Kids Hospital, and we cherish the beautiful moments in life all the more because we know that, while his treatments have been successful so far, so many neuroblastoma families are unable to say the same.
The 6th annual Nexicom James Fund Golf Classic is about these families and the opportunity to give them hope. It’s a tournament unlike any other, and it kicks off on June 3 this year. Visit www.jamesfund.com/golfclassic for more information.
This is the second in a series of stories by Kristian Partington about the James Fund Golf Classic. Read the first.