By Bill Vilona
Special to the News Journal
When relaunching his charity golf tournament in Pensacola three years ago, Derrick Brooks was steadfast in making sure the first one overcame various challenges.
First, the coronavirus hit. And then, twice the event was postponed due to weather issues and moved to a new date. But it happened. Golf was played. Money was raised.
That led into an even bigger tournament in 2022 with more celebrity players and expanded sponsorship. The progression continues with the 2023 Derrick Brooks Pensacola Golf Classic set for August 14 at Pensacola Country Club. Included this year is a pairings party on August 13 at the Pensacola Beach Hilton that will include Brooks and other celebrity players.
The tournament has some openings for golfers wishing to play this year. It is being handled as a team sponsorship for $1500 which includes four players, the pairings party, plus the tournament day with breakfast, lunch and prizes. Registration information is available on the website, www.db55.org/pensacola-golf-classic-2023 that include Brooks on video.
“We are just going to keep taking this one step at a time and do what it takes to build this event,” said Brooks, who rose from youth football days in Pensacola all the way into pro football immortality as one of just 31 linebackers in NFL history enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
“What we want to continue to do is have a solid group of supporters and just add to it. Hopefully, that solid group of supporters continues to spread the word and that is what they have done,” said Brooks, who was a national defensive player of year at Booker T. Washington High, then two-time All-American at Florida State, before all of his NFL fame, which included leading the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to their first Super Bowl triumph in 2003.
Last year’s tournament featured former Major League Baseball stars Gary Sheffield, Tino Martinez and Fred McGriff, along with boxers Antonio Tarver and Winky Wright. The football group of celebrities included Booger McFarland, Joe Cribbs, Reidel Anthony and Pensacola resident Dominic Hixon, a two-time Super Bowl champion with the New York Giants.
Many of those celebrities are expected to return, along with some newcomers Brooks will bring. The biggest addition will be the pairings party, which will enable participants and sponsors to mingle with the celebrity players.
“With the pairings party, that will give us a chance to really celebrate the impact that the Derrick Brooks Foundation has continued to have in our community,” said Amelia Sherrill, in her second year as the tournament director. “It’s more time that everyone gets to spend with Derrick and his celebrity players.
“We are also having an auction of various items,” she said. “We really feel good about it. I would say that is the biggest feedback that we have gotten is that players want to have more time with Derrick. They want to get a chance to talk to him and learn about the things he is able to do with the support.
“The party will be a couple hours together and he will share his story and some of our partners will share what we are doing together.”
Brooks, who resides in Tampa, is the executive vice president of the Tampa Bay Lightning and part of the Vinik Sports Group founded by Lightning owner Jeff Vinik. His role with the NHL franchise is part of a busy portfolio that includes being involved with the NFL commissioner’s office and handling Derrick Brooks Charities Inc.
In Pensacola, the charitable impact continues to expand. In August, the organization will impact O.J. Semmes Elementary School by providing 300 backpacks, provided by Bealls Florida department store, for every student to start the upcoming school year. Another 700 backpacks will be delivered to other needy elementary schools in Pensacola.
During Teacher Appreciation Week last May, Brooks Charities provided $50 Amazon gift cards to the teachers and staff at O.J. Semmes Elementary School, along with a catered lunch one day.
Brooks has also led the way to duplicate the Community Police Relations program that has been successful in Tampa and the encompassing Hillsborough County with a similar program in Pensacola. Law enforcement officials from Hillsborough County will travel to Pensacola to meet with Escambia County sheriff Chip Simmons along with the Pensacola Police department.
Derrick Brooks Charities of Northwest Florida is also the official sponsor of the NFL Flag Pensacola youth football program that has been successful in introducing football in a low contact, fun way to area youths.
The program has been managed from the beginning by David Wilson, long-time area high school and former college football coach, who also partnered with Brooks when the former Tampa Bay Storm Arena Football League team existed.
Brooks is also an investor in the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, part of the ownership group he joined in 2018 that includes Bubba Watson, along with majority owners Quint and Rishy Studer.
In Tampa, his celebrity golf tournament will celebrate its 23rd year in October. He’s applied many of the elements that have kept that tournament successful to his Pensacola tournament.
“When I think about this community, it’s family,” Brooks said. “I only have one hometown. And that is Pensacola.”
In planning for the tournament’s third year in Pensacola, the awareness and interest from area companies to get involved has increased.
“We’ve seen so much more excitement from not only the sponsors and players, but the community in general,” Sherrill said. “A lot of people who have been involved with he tournament commented on how much fun they had and how much they loved spending time with Derrick and hearing the impact he’s had.
“And they want to get more involved and grow with the organization to have an even bigger footprint in town. So that has resulted in more sponsors and more teams and players.”
Bill Vilona is a retired Pensacola News Journal sports columnist and now senior writer for Pensacola Blue Wahoos. He can be reached at email@example.com.
DERRICK BROOKS PENSACOLA GOLF CLASSIC
WHEN: August 13-14.
WHERE: Pensacola Beach Hilton, Pensacola Country Club
WHO: Open to any interested participants
FORMAT: Pairings party is Aug. 13 at Pensacola Beach Hilton. Tournament is Aug. 14 at Pensacola Country Club with check-in beginning at 7:30 a.m. and breakfast provided on driving range. Tournament is a 9 a.m. shotgun start and select shot play. Lunch will be held at Pensacola Country Club clubhouse.
COST: $1500 per four-player team.
INFO: Contact Amelia Sherrill at 850-449-4377.