Magazine, Sports

The Vinny & The Music City Marathon: Nashvillians Pounding the Pavement and Hitting the Links to Give Back

Tennessee Titans punter Brett Kern was one of the many sports and entertainment stars on the hand at The Vinny this year.

Playing partners Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN, Tennessee Titans kicker Craig Hentrich and PGA Tour FedEx Cup Champion Brandt Snedeker discuss a tee shot while playing in The Vinny at the Golf Club of Tennessee. / Photo by Matthew W. Maxey.

Playing partners Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN, Tennessee Titans kicker Craig Hentrich and PGA Tour FedEx Cup Champion Brandt Snedeker discuss a tee shot while playing in The Vinny at the Golf Club of Tennessee. / Photo by Matthew W. Maxey.

When the weather starts to warm and summer time begins rolling around, many people look to get out of the house and get active. While there are countless ways to get active outdoors in the Nashville area, many head straight to the running trails or hit the links at the local golf course. It isn’t always just for recreation, though. Many people take great pride in giving back to the community they live in while doing something they love. In the Nashville area, there is no shortage of fundraising races or golf tournaments for any number of worthy causes.

The running community as a whole is a very tight-knit group. While they like to compete and have fun, when there are funds that need to be raised for a child in need, a community project or even a national endeavor, you can usually find a Saturday morning 5K full of people lacing up to raise money for the cause. Whether they are competitive runners, or just starting a couch-to-5K plan, running in a race with a purpose of giving back provides many the inspiration to run a bit harder or jump start that plan they had to start running “tomorrow.”

Country Music Hall of Famer and tournament host Vince Gill chats with one of his playing partners during play at The Vinny, which has raised more than $5 million for junior golf in Tennessee over its 21-year history. / Photo by Matthew W. Maxey.

Country Music Hall of Famer and tournament host Vince Gill chats with one of his playing partners during play at The Vinny, which has raised more than $5 million for junior golf in Tennessee over its 21-year history. / Photo by Matthew W. Maxey.

Saundra Etchinson, who runs regularly with the Mt. Juliet Flyers running club, made a point to run in the Moving Towards a Cure 5K Run/Walk that is put on by the Miles For Hope organization held at Shelby Bottoms this past June. She said, “I run this race in memory of my brother, who lost his 18 year battle with brain cancer in 2004.”

Since January of this year alone, Miles For Hope has given over $145,000 to research and provided 11 families the financial assistance they needed for travel to some of the most reputable tumor treatment facilities in the country.

Etchison is also making plans to run the St. Jude Marathon sometime in the next couple of years in honor of her brother. Her brother had been diagnosed with a childhood form of cancer, which is usually diagnosed under the age of two for those affected. St. Jude was his favorite charity, so running in that race will have extra special meaning for Etchison, knowing that the funds raised will go to aid someone in a situation just like her brother.

Similarly, Candace Reed, also of the Mt. Juliet Flyers running club, seeks out one very particular 5K race with a purpose. “I run the Jordan Hakett 5K every May in memory of my first child, who passed away from the same heart defect (Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome) that Jordan had.”

Reed organizes a team – Team Kylee – for this race each year.  Every Team Kylee member runs in honor of Kylee and with the hope that the funds they raise for the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital and Nashville Ronald McDonald House will help someone struggling through a similar situation.

On the range before his round, The Vinny host Vince Gill gets a quick lesson from World Golf Hall of Fame member and legendary LPGA player Nancy Lopez. / Photo by Matthew W. Maxey.

Not only does the Nashville running community know how to join a cause, they know how to put on a large-scale event, too. Despite torrential downpours this year, the annual Country Music Marathon saw nearly 30,000 runners from across the country come together to run and raise funds for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. The Nashville race is the second largest in the country put on by the Competitor Group in their Rock ‘n’ Roll series.

It takes $1.8 million every day to operate St. Jude, and those “St. Jude Heroes” running in the Country Music Marathon and Half Marathon this year raised nearly a million dollars for the cause.

On the links, when you think of charitable golf tournaments in Nashville there is one that easily stands out above the rest. The Vinny, hosted by Country Music Hall of Famer Vince Gill, celebrated its 21st year when it was held at The Golf Club of Tennessee in early June. The star-studded event featured stars from the golf world like Nancy Lopez, Craig Stadler, Scott Simpson and Lou Graham, in addition to loads of sports and entertainment stars like Tennessee Titans Brett Kern and Craig Hentrich, Nashville Predator Mike Fisher, former Vanderbilt star and NBA champion Will Perdue, Olympic Gold Medalist Scott Hamilton, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit and NASHVILLE star Chip Esten.

As he does every year, Gill invited his friends to come down for a weekend of golf and in the process help him raise a little money, too. The Vinny benefits junior golf in Tennessee, and to date, it has raised more than $6 million to further the game of golf for juniors across the state.

Gill summed it up simply when he described what has made The Vinny different and able to sustain itself for so many years. “I just wanted to invite my friends.” He continues that “tournaments like these don’t have that much of a shelf life, and for this to have gone on for 21 years is really remarkable and really rare. You just don’t see it very often. The only reason it has sustained is because so many of the same people come back.”

Star of the ABC series "Nashville," Chip Esten and 10-year PGA Tour veteran and Gaylord Springs head professional Harry Taylor read a putt during The Vinny. / Photo by Matthew W. Maxey.

Star of the ABC series “Nashville,” Chip Esten and 10-year PGA Tour veteran and Gaylord Springs head professional Harry Taylor read a putt during The Vinny. / Photo by Matthew W. Maxey.

Speaking of the benefits that The Vinny’s proceeds have provided, tournament director Joe Taggard said, “It is off the charts. Our foundation has literally helped thousands and thousands of kids, which would not have been possible without The Vinny and Vince’s backing. At last count, we had 320 kids across the state on college scholarships.”
Taggard added, “What many don’t know is that we are not just teaching these kids golf but also life values that they can keep with them their whole life.”

After 21 years of supporting Tennessee junior golf, a number of success stories have emerged. Countless junior golfers across the state have taken up the game who might not have ever had the opportunity otherwise. Not only have young players been assisted with life skills and exposure to the sport, but the world of golf has directly benefitted as well. This year’s US Open featured three players who got their start on the Tennessee Golf Association junior tour that at one time even bore Gill’s name as the Vince Gill Junior Golf Tour. FedEx Cup Champion Brandt Snedeker, two-time PGA TOUR winner Scott Stallings and US Amateur champion Steven Fox all started their golf careers playing on the junior tour that The Vinny supports.

In a true sign of things coming full circle, both Fox and Snedeker were able to come back and play in The Vinny as participants this year.

Snedeker said of Gill and The Vinny, “Vince is huge for junior golf. I grew up playing on the Vince Gill Junior Golf tour back in the day. He has done so much for Nashville and the state of Tennessee in junior golf. It is really special coming back to this event, especially after playing on his tour 20 years ago.”

Country Music Marathon & Half Marathon

Country Music Marathon & Half Marathon

He added, “It is getting tougher but events like this are really special. I try to do as many of these as I can each year, because there are a lot of really cool events that you want to be a part of and help great causes, but unfortunately you only have some much time you can do it. Events like this are very rare to have this kind of impact.”

In between a busy PGA TOUR playing schedule, Snedeker himself found time to “get in the game” of hosting a tournament. He partnered with the American Junior Golf Association to put on the Bridgestone Golf/Brandt Snedeker Music City Junior presented by Toyota at Richland Country Club. The AJGA is the premier junior golf tour in the country and attracts the top junior players in the world to its events.

With the model that Gill has created with The Vinny and with players like Snedeker, Stallings and Fox beginning to take the reins, the future of golf in Tennessee seems to be in worthy hands for generations to come.

Yes, Nashville is world renowned for its music, and we are noticed more and more for our sports as well. Both our musicians and our sports figures generously give of themselves and their dollars to multiple causes.  But here in Nashville, we can be doubly proud, because whether it’s music, sports or something else entirely, our entire community comes together on a regular basis. “Giving back” has simply become part of our everyday culture.