U.S. SENIOR WOMEN'S OPEN
Betsy King’s Journey From Major Champion to Major Benefactor May 15, 2019 | SOUTHERN PINES, N.C. By Ron Sirak

King (center, back row) organized a 2007 trip with fellow players to Rwanda that kicked off her Golf Fore Africa efforts.  (Photo by Dom Furore)

Betsy King, a World Golf Hall of Fame member and two-time U.S. Women’s Open champion, was looking for meaningful work in 2006, the first year since 1975 she didn’t play on the LPGA Tour. Her Christian faith took her to Africa to learn more about the AIDS crisis, and once she was exposed to the uplifting spirit and heartbreaking stories of the people, King knew what she needed to do.

“You go to a country and you think you are never going to go back, but I was so moved by the heart of the Rwandan people I went home determined to do all I could to help," said King about the equatorial Africa nation where more than 1 million people were killed in the 1994 genocide, leaving a country of 8 million with 1 million orphans, a tragedy compounded by the AIDS pandemic.

What she did was brainstorm with her friend Debbie Quesada to form Golf Fore Africa. Then they elicited the expertise of the Christian humanitarian group World Vision, which already was doing service work in many nations, including on the African continent.

Now, in a little over a decade, Golf Fore Africa has funded the construction of 220 wells for clean drinking water – primarily in Zambia – and handed out more than $8 million in grant money. But the impact of its work is expressed much more eloquently in the stories of the people rather than in numbers in an annual report.

“Debbie is in Zambia now,” King said Wednesday at the Mid Pines Inn and Golf Club. “She went to a village we had been to three years ago with Cheyenne Woods and spoke with a woman named Monica who told her that before the well was built she spent 14 hours a day making several trips to get water. Now the well is four minutes from her home.”

The impact of a well far exceeds providing safe water in an area where about one-fifth of the children die before their fifth birthday because of diseases related to unsafe water. The reduction of the time-consuming labor of gathering water is truly liberating. Wells are not only life-saving, they are life-changing. 

“Debbie asked Monica what the well has meant in her life and she said she now can grow avocados and guava in her yard, and flowers to make her house beautiful – little things we take for granted,” said King, 63, a native of Reading, Pa.

“And Monica said she’s used the new time she has to go back to school,” King said. “She’s 38 years old and in fifth grade. She told Debbie, ‘My oldest son is in seventh grace and my goal is to do better than him.’ She also said that now that she is a village leader she realizes she needs to have an education.”

This year’s U.S. Senior Women’s Open was to be the swan song for King, who had eight additional top-10 finishes in the U.S. Women’s Open to go along with her victories in 1989 and 1990. But on Good Friday, the plan for a graceful exit into retirement from competition was derailed by an emergency appendectomy in Arizona. Although everything went smoothly, the doctors mandated no swinging of a golf club for four weeks, which bumped right up against the championship at Pine Needles.

But King didn’t cancel her trip to Southern Pines, N.C., because she had a Golf Fore Africa fundraising event to conduct. On Wednesday, 120 people gathered for an afternoon golf clinic at Mid Pines and an evening cocktail party to learn about Golf Fore Africa. Joining King were defending U.S. Senior Women’s Open champion Laura Davies, Donna Andrews, Jane Crafter and Liselotte Neumann.

Next up for King is a June trip to Zambia, and she hopes to put together another trip in December with LPGA players. Among the professionals who have contributed both time and money to help Golf Fore Africa change lives are Azahara Munoz, Emma Talley, Kendall Dye, Amy Olson, Juli Inkster, Lorena Ochoa and Katherine Kirk.

“Recently, I went to a water conference in Kigali and visited a medical clinic we’ve funded in Mudasomwa,” King said about a village in southern Rwanda where Golf Fore Africa organized financial support for orphans. “The clinic now serves about 25,000 people a year, providing HIV testing and a maternity ward, with nutrition instruction for new and expecting mothers as the biggest program.”

For King, the end of her competitive golf career meant the beginning of philanthropic work that has truly been life-changing, both for her and the people helped by Golf Fore Africa.

“For me personally, once you are over there you just want to make a difference,” King said. “My advice to everyone: get involved; do something to help.”

And that’s exactly what King has done. She’s made a difference by becoming a major champion for those truly in need. It’s perhaps her most memorable victory.

Ron Sirak is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA digital channels.

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