Toby Keith’s passing leaves a void in Oklahoma golf community

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By Ken MacLeod

Toby Keith loved golf, so much so that he owned a course (not always a profitable venture) and also used the sport as a vehicle to do much good in the world.

Each year at his Belmar Golf Club in Norman, Keith, his wife Tricia Covel and his Toby Keith Foundation would host a huge fundraiser for OK Kids Korral, which helps families whose children are undergoing treatments for cancer. It seems especially cruel that cancer took Keith at such an early age (62) after all he did to help others with the same affliction.

A second event each year that benefits the OK Kids Korral combined two of Keith’s passions – his love for golf and his love for the Oklahoma Sooners. The annual Schooner Fall Classic, held the past 11 years at Belmar, is unique among collegiate tournaments. The OU women’s team is the host and the participating teams play in a fund-raising college-amateur event the day before the competition starts, raising over $1 million for the OK Kids Korral since 2014.

The 18th annual Toby Keith & Friends Golf Classic raised more than $1,380,000 for the Toby Keith Foundation.
Veronique Drouin-Luttrell

Following the first round, each team visits the OK Kids Korral to meet and inspire the residents, and often become inspired themselves.

“It’s a very unique event, there’s nothing else like it around the country,” said OU women’s golf coach Veronique Drouin-Luttrell. “It gave all the players the chance to see that what they are playing for is bigger than us. And to be able to build relationships with those kids. Some of the players have kept in touch with kids they met there over the years and it’s just really neat to see.

“Toby Keith was such a great man. People know him for his music, but he did so much good. He was there for the troops and he was there for us, saying how can I help. That was the really cool part about that event.”

Tricia Covel was a driving force behind the event and Drouin-Luttrell expects it will continue. Covell is also a mainstay behind operations at Belmar and so Jarod Lundy, director of golf at the club, expects there will be no disruptions there as well. Covel also founded SwingDish, a women’s golf apparel line, and Covel, a men’s apparel line.

Jarod Lundy

Lundy said Wednesday that members were still in a state of shock at Keith’s passing. Before his illness Keith played and hung out there regularly, where he carried a handicap of around 4 and was a tough competitor in weekly matches or at national pro-ams. During his heavy touring years he would play around the country and he and Roger Clemens and their wives played a lot of golf together.

“He was just an amazing person,” Lundy said. “When you take this job everyone wants to know ‘what’s Toby like?’ At the end of the day he is who you saw, his patriotism, his love for country, his love for OU, the respect and admiration he had from service members. And he loved the game of golf.

“I didn’t know him for long, but once you got to know him it was like you were friends for 20 years.”

Lundy said Keith recently came to him with a request for Auto Flex Shafts, the Korean shafts which retail for about $745 per shaft.

“This was after he went and played in California at Clint Eastwood’s tournament and someone had them,” Lundy said. “He said, Bro, I don’t hit it very far anymore and I need those Auto Flex Shafts.”

Lundy said the atmosphere and culture at Belmar reflect’s Keith’s personality.

“It’s laid back and really fun, just like he was,” Lundy said. “He’ll be missed out there. There’s a deep connection that a core chunk of our membership had with him, they were all like extended family.”

Steve Stricker with Toby Keith at the 2018 ATT Pro Am.

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