How Bill Murray Gives Back Through Golf

Bill Murray is one of America’s great pranksters, the funny guy who became a household name on Saturday Night Live. Later, the actor starred in movies including Caddyshack, where he plays a gopher-obsessed greenskeeper named Carl Spackler, and Ghostbusters, in which he plays psychologist, parapsychologist and ghost hunter Peter Venkman. And he knows how to garner attention everywhere he goes, whether he’s playing golf in head-to-toe camouflage gear or skydiving to raise money for USO of Illinois. “He’s a presence,” says his youngest brother, Joel. “He can take a room from zero to 60 depending on the mood he’s in.”

Bill Murray’s Caddyshack® Charity Golf Tournament

But if you want to watch the funny guy turn serious, ask Bill about philanthropy. Giving back, he says, completely straight-faced, is a responsibility, not an option. And the centerpiece of his personal efforts is the Murray Bros. Caddyshack® Charity Golf Tournament, hosted by Bill and his five brothers in St. Augustine, Florida, home of the original Murray Bros. Caddyshack restaurant.

The annual tournament allows Bill to combine subjects he loves: family, charity and golf. “I love golf and spending time with my brothers,” he tells me. “It’s great for all of us to come to Florida, spend time in the restaurant, play these great courses with our friends and do some good things for this community. We’ve had a lot of fun with this tournament and we believe the end result is very worthwhile.”

The idea for the tournament came even before the Caddyshack restaurant opened in the World Golf Village in St. Augustine, home of the World Golf Hall of Fame (the hall of fame is leaving in late 2023). The brothers were doing a walk through the facility when a group of nuns approached. “They came up to us and said, ‘We heard you boys are Catholics,’” remembers Joel. “They said, ‘What are you going to do for us?’ We said, ‘I guess we can do a golf tournament and give you all the proceeds.’ It was nice because we should be giving back to the area where we are asking people for business.”

Bill Murray’s philanthropy through golf

Now in its 22nd year, the Murray Bros. Caddyshack® Charity Golf Tournament has raised more than $4 million for charities, including St. Vincent’s Mobile Health Outreach Ministry, Guardian Catholic Schools, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeast Florida and Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation. The tournament brings in heavy hitters from sports and entertainment, some of whom have become regulars: country music star Darius Rucker; former Caddyshack cast member Cindy Morgan, who played Lacey Underall; actors Melissa Joan Hart and Kristy Swanson; golfers Fuzzy Zoeller and John Daly; and former players from Bill’s beloved Chicago Bears, including Jim McMahon and Hall of Famer Richard Dent.

“You want to have good celebrities who understand the cause and spend time meeting and greeting the guests,” says Chris Seely, a longtime friend of Bill’s. “And of course, they need to play some decent golf or at least have the right handicap.”

On the contrary, Bill jokes: “I make sure I don’t invite any of my friends who are better than me. It’s my tournament; I want to win!”

Actually, Bill, who has a +17 handicap, is a pretty good golfer in his own right. He’s also a consummate host. He makes a point of interacting with every player, taking scores of pictures, cracking jokes and delivering one-liners that leave everyone in stitches. (In a previous tournament, Bill had an interesting assessment of this author’s embarrassingly bad swing, which carved a divot that probably sailed farther than the actual ball. Riding up in his golf cart about that time, he said, “Where I come from, we call that a raisin bran shot.” “What?” I asked. “It’ll take two scoops to fill that hole,” he replied.)

Bill Murray’s love of golf runs deep

Comedy and golf seem to be part of the Murray DNA. Of the nine siblings, four are in show business—Bill, Brian, John and Joel have acting credits. Five, if you count sister Nancy, a nun who toured the U.S. with a one-woman show about the life of Saint Catherine of Siena. Brian co-wrote the script for Caddyshack, which was inspired by the brothers’ experience working summer jobs as caddies. 

Giving back is another Murray family tradition. “It’s just how we were brought up,” Bill says. Joel explains that their widowed mother, who raised her six sons and three daughters alone, was their primary inspiration. “I don’t know how she made the bills every month. But when she would sit down and do the bills, she would write a check for charity. Even if it was $25, she would write a check for something. She was doing her best to keep shoes on us and was always giving something away.”

When it comes to charity, Seely says Bill will do just about anything. In 2008, he jumped out of a plane at the 50th Chicago Air & Water Show. In 2011, Bill and Rucker acted as coaches and team captains in the “Slim Down the South” charity softball game in Rucker’s hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. Proceeds benefited childhood obesity programs through the nonprofit organization Louie’s Kids.

One tournament Bill plays each year is the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. He won’t deny that playing at beautiful Pebble Beach is part of the draw. But his primary motivation is that tournament proceeds go to “charities throughout Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties,” according to the tournament website. His presence alone draws spectators to the event each year. He usually provides a few memorable moments throughout the competition—such as in 2012, where he showed up in a camouflage suit, attempted to putt backward and tickled a cameraman.

Donating time and money

During the Caddyshack tournament, Bill donates eight to 10 foursomes to be used at silent auctions at other tournaments to drum up interest in his causes and broaden participation. He also concocts other ways to give through the Caddyshack tournament. In 2006, he hosted an auction for a custom Caddyshack motorcycle, which he ultimately bought. It happened after Orange County Choppers offered to create a Caddyshack motorcycle on their TV show, which broadcasted on the Discovery Channel. Bill jumped at the opportunity, went to New York and taped the show. Then he invited show hosts Paul Teutul Sr. and Paul Teutul Jr. to the Caddyshack golf tournament to auction off the bike.

“That bike is a piece of art, so I said, ‘You know what, I’m going all in,’” Bill says. “So I won the bike for $150,000. That bike still sits at the restaurant. I’ll take it for a spin every year when I go back, but it wasn’t about the money. I knew it was going for a good cause so I had no problem buying my own bike.”

In the end, while Bill has won fame from his gift for comedy, it’s his gift for giving that’s set him apart from many others in Hollywood. “Bill may be the most caring person I’ve ever known,” Seely says. “He is always thinking of others. He gives to a lot of people and has been a longtime supporter of many worthy causes.”

This article was published in April 2012 and has been updated. Photo by Tim J Gray/Shutterstock

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