GLEN COVE, N.Y. – Dree Fausnaugh brings a unique perspective into this week’s U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship. That point of view might not win this championship or other golf events, but it has offered hope to children too sick to play the game.
In each of the past two years, the 17-year-old from Maitland, Fla., has hosted a charity golf tournament outside Orlando to raise funds for the Jack Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation. The event has raised nearly $18,000 for the foundation with Fausnaugh personally enlisting 175 golfers to participate.
“My family has always had a pretty good helping gene, so maybe that’s where I got my compassion,” said Fausnaugh, a senior-to-be at Lake Mary (Fla.) Prep who opened with a 10-over 80 on Monday at Nassau Country Club. “I feel like I can use golf to help others.”
Fausnaugh, who also qualified for this year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior at Forest Highlands Golf Club in Flagstaff, Ariz., wanted to get involved with the American Junior Golf Association’s (AJGA) Leadership Links program, a joint initiative founded in 2005 by the USGA and the AJGA to develop junior golfers through volunteerism. The program offered a variety of charities, so she selected the Nicklaus Foundation due to its namesake.
Fausnaugh started from scratch with her first tournament in 2013. She sought out sponsors, registered teams of four players and solicited tournament prizes. Sixty-five players showed up for her inaugural event, raising $7,500 and surpassing her fundraising goal of $5,000. This year, the field of 110 players met her fundraising goal of $10,000.
“That makes me feel really good because all of the money raised goes to the foundation,” she said. “It takes a lot of work and sometimes just getting people to commit is overwhelming.”
But something about the teen’s determination has convinced a number of Orlando businesses to sign up as gold ($2,500 donation) and bronze sponsors ($1,500). From car dealerships and real estate brokers to groups of golfers wanting to have fun and support a good cause, Fausnaugh has become the ringmaster for her annual event. She’s even convinced some of her fellow junior golfers to play as “ringers.”
“Most of the time, people are nice to me because they know I’m doing this for a good cause,” she said. “It’s getting so I don’t have to ask, they just offer to help.”
In June, Fausnaugh was recognized as the 2014 female recipient of the AJGA/USGA President’s Leadership Award, receiving the honor during the AJGA’s Rolex Tournament of Champions in Nashville, Tenn.
The national award was created to recognize one male and one female junior golfer who demonstrate leadership, character and community service through their involvement with the Leadership Links program.
As an award winner, Fausnaugh earned an exemption into the 2014 Rolex Tournament of Champions, one of the AJGA’s largest and most prestigious invitationals.
But while she appreciated the exemption, Fausnaugh’s motivation to help others started by observing the “helping genes” of her family.
Her father is a psychotherapist who also assists the homeless in Orlando and serves as a Presbyterian lay minister. Her grandfather was a surgeon. Her great-grandfather was a Presbyterian minister. Her grandmother is an Orlando volunteer and Junior League member who has worked with charities that assist troubled juveniles and raises money for the local symphony orchestra. An aunt is involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and her mother assists the teen with her charity golf tournament and donates many of the prizes.
“Dree has utilized the game of golf and all the contacts she’s made to help children with cancer,” said Dree’s father, Chandler Fausnaugh, who is serving as her caddie this week. “We want to play good golf, but in the end, the goal is to be altruistic in her community.”
Dree has posted solid results, recording four top-10 AJGA finishes in 2013 and 2014, including a tie for fourth in April at the 2014 TaylorMade-Adidas Golf Junior at Innisbrook Resort and Golf Club in Palm Harbor, Fla. Overall, she owns 10 top-10 AJGA finishes, and was named a Rolex Junior All-American in 2012.
She will return as the captain of her girls’ golf team at Lake Mary Prep this fall, where she alternated with a teammate in the No. 1 position. The team was the runner-up by three strokes in the Florida State 1A High School Championship, but Fausnaugh is confident the team can make a run for the state title this year.
She has already verbally committed to play at the University of Central Florida in Orlando next fall, and while she is uncertain of her major, she knows she wants to pursue a career in the golf industry.
She also wants to continue building her charity tournament.
“I don’t want to just do it for a few years and quit,” said Fausnaugh. “I want to keep this tournament growing.”
Fausnaugh met the foundation’s namesake, Jack Nicklaus, in 2013 at an AJGA reception for the top eight charitable fundraisers. This fall, she will play golf with two-time USA Walker Cup competitor and 2014 U.S. Open runner-up Rickie Fowler, who will spend a day with the AJGA’s top three charitable fundraisers.
Dree also appeared in an EA Sports video game commercial with Tiger Woods when she was 11. The commercial featured a tiny girl – Fausnaugh – outdriving Woods in the video promo.
But while golf has allowed her to meet some of the game’s top players, the process of orchestrating a charitable tournament has given her new perspective. Next year, she plans to visit the children’s hospital to meet the kids who benefit from her tournament.
“Some people struggling with serious diseases would give anything to miss a 10-foot putt for par,” she said. “I try to remember that.”
Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.