Celebrities give back while entertaining fans at Regions Tradition Pro-Am

Published 11:18 pm Wednesday, May 8, 2024

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

HOOVER – It’s a sight that has come to be familiar at Greystone Golf and Country Club: Nick Saban standing on the first tee greeting the seas of Alabama fans and patients from Children’s of Alabama before setting off for a morning on the Founder’s Course on Wednesday, May 8.

Even in the busyness of the college football calendar, Saban has always enjoyed making the journey out to Hoover and considers it one of the highlights of his year to play in the Regions Tradition Celebrity Pro-Am.

“This is one of my favorite events that we did each year to be able to meet the players, see a lot of fans, sign a lot of autographs, make a lot of people feel good, I hope,” Saban said.

It was a sentiment shared by many of the celebrities who passed through Greystone as they sought to entertain fans, raise money for local charities and get in a round of golf at the same time.

While some like Saban have participated in the tournament for years, every year brings new faces into the fold for the amateur field. This year, one of those faces came courtesy of Saban himself as Kalen DeBoer, the man who succeeded Saban as the Alabama football coach, teed off at the Tradition for the first time.

Right before lining up next to Saban on the driving range to work on his swing, DeBoer said it was important to him to continue to be around the people of Alabama and support the causes that matter to them as the excitement builds for his first season in Tuscaloosa.

“I think just being out in the community,” DeBoer said. “There’s great causes that everything supports. And so just being out here and signing autographs and seeing the excitement, it continues to motivate you. I think you’ve got to be driven in the first place but seeing everyone out here and the excitement for this fall, it’s a lot of fun to be part of.” 

The importance of the charity aspect was not lost on the man coaching on the opposite side of the state from DeBoer, Auburn football coach Hugh Freeze.

While Freeze always looks forward to seeing his friends from the golf world at Greystone, his biggest reason for coming back was to support Children’s of Alabama, which is the main beneficiary of the tournament and has received over $21 million since the Tradition began in 1992.

“The job that Regions does in our lives really for all the communities in our great state,” Freeze said of his reason for coming to play. “Regions just is very, very active in all the things they do for the children’s hospitals and the charities that they do, for us to be a part of this is a pretty no-brainer.”

The field wasn’t limited to just Alabama and Auburn football coaches but also featured Georgia football coach Kirby Smart, UAB football coach Trent Dilfer and former Alabama stars Greg McElroy and Roman Harper.

In addition, former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, U.S. senator and former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, retired MLB pitcher Jake Peavy and co-host of “The Rick and Bubba Show” Bubba Bussey hit the course alongside pros from the PGA Tour Champions.

Such a star-studded field was enough to amaze even an established celebrity like country music singer Riley Green, who was grateful to raise money for Children’s alongside some of his idols from his childhood in Jacksonville.

“Obviously, playing for a good cause like this, being able to do stuff with Children’s is pretty special, and it’s just like legends of Alabama down here you grew up kind of idolizing, it’s cool to be a part of,” Green said.

For a day, those celebrities from vastly different spheres of influence had a common goal of trying to hit a golf ball well.

While some, like the newly-retired Saban, have had a little more time of their hands to play a few rounds, others like Green rushed to the driving range in a bid to find their swing before heading to the tee and showcasing a skill they aren’t as well known for.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever been more nervous on any stage than hitting a golf ball in front of a couple thousand people, because for me, I play a little bit, but I could certainly miss the ball at any time or hit somebody,” Green said.

Green got to step back in his comfort zone for a brief moment on the 14th tee to perform alongside an unlikely guitar partner: PGA Tour Champions pro John Daly.

For a tournament called the Tradition, the pop-up show has quickly become an annual tradition in itself after Green and Daly became friends over their shared love of music.

“John’s a music guy,” Green said of his relationship with Daly. “I met John in Nashville at Old Hickory Country Club. He leaves his bus parked out there and we’d sit around, talk songwriting and we just hit it off. He’s a character, and one of my favorite things about playing with John is I don’t have to entertain anybody when he’s around. He’s the guy. He handles that for me.”

The concert was one of many entertaining moments for patrons throughout the day at Greystone as the pros and amateurs alike sought to bring a smile to people’s faces.

In the end, that’s what brings the big names like Saban out to the first tee on the Founder’s Course year after year.

“I try to make people feel good, make them feel better,” Saban said. “Nobody remembers anything you say but they do remember how you make them feel. So, hopefully we can still make some people feel good.”