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The Shaw Charity Classic: A Canadian fundraising success story

The annual community support event continues to grow as one of the country’s most impactful fundraising events
Young fan takes in the energy of the Shaw Charity Classic in 2018

As Canadians put away their golf clubs in favour of hockey sticks this winter, the impact of Calgary’s Shaw Charity Classic continues to be felt throughout the communities and charities it supports all year round.

In early November, the Shaw Charity Classic announced it has raised a record breaking $14.8 million in charitable donations in 2021, bringing its nine-year fundraising total to a staggering $76 million and putting it on par with country-wide fundraisers like the Canadian Cancer Society CIBC Run for the Cure and the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer.

In this time, the pro golf event that was launched with a charitable element transformed to a community fundraising behemoth – supporting 233 youth-based charities across Alberta while showcasing some of the sport’s greatest names as the PGA TOUR Champions’ only Canadian stop.

But how has the Shaw Charity Classic grown to become one of the country’s biggest fundraising success stories? Simply put, it’s a deep-seated commitment to community.

Nearly a decade ago the late Clay Riddell – a titan of Calgary’s business and philanthropic community – had the bold idea to create an event that would showcase the city to a global audience and, most importantly, serve as a platform for charitable giving to support organizations working to make a difference in the lives of kids and their families across Alberta.

He rallied a group of like-minded Calgary-based business leaders to help bring this vision to life, but it was one call between Clay and JR Shaw – the late founder of Shaw Communications – that set the wheels in motion. JR didn’t hesitate to support an event that aligned perfectly with the values he had set in place for his family and his company.

With Shaw Communications enthusiastically on board as the title sponsor, the Shaw Charity Classic was born. And it didn’t take long for the tournament’s impact to be felt in the community.

A young Shaw Charity Classic fan shows off his giant golf ball in 2018

“During its inaugural year in 2013, we raised about two and a quarter-million dollars for what was then only 15 charities in southern Alberta and Calgary,” said Brad Shaw, JR Shaw’s son as well as the Executive Chair and CEO of Shaw Communications. “That was a big deal. And it was an event that was staged unlike most other first-year professional golf tournaments.”

Since 2013, the tournament has continued to expand the number of youth-based charities it supports. According to the executive director of the Shaw Charity Classic, Sean Van Kesteren, it was the tournament’s donation matching program that kicked this expansion into high gear. 

“After a couple of years, we developed a program called Shaw Birdies for Kids presented by AltaLink, which was basically our charitable platform for the event,” said Van Kesteren. “And because of the way we constructed this platform, it allowed us to go from supporting around 80 or 90 charities to 233 charities across the province.”

Shaw Charity Classic champion Scott McCarron hosts a golf clinic for young fans in 2018

One organization that has been supported by the tournament since day one is KidSport Calgary. According to their CEO, Kevin Webster, the organization has benefited greatly from both the Shaw Charity Classic’s fundraising efforts as well as the public exposure KidSport Calgary has been able to garner from the tournament itself.

“Partnering with a great organization like Shaw and a leading world-class event like the Shaw Charity Classic has been immensely impactful to us,” said Webster. “We’ve been able to help more than 30,000 kids access sports in the last nine years, and we’ve seen significant growth in both the demands for our services and the impact our programs have had in the community.”

“The opportunity that the Shaw Charity Classic has provided is something you just can’t build,” added Webster. “The thousands of fans, the commitment to community, and now the hundreds of charities involved. That’s such a cool story and one that we are so lucky to be a part of and have in this city.”

PGA TOUR Champions players Bernhard Langer and Miguel Angel Jiménez interacting with Shaw Charity Classic fans in 2018

The president of the PGA TOUR Champions Miller Brady says that the factor that makes the Shaw Charity Classic different has been its ability to tap into the deep-seated, neighbourly pride that exists throughout Calgary and Southern Alberta residents.

“What I would say makes the Shaw Charity Classic so unique and so special really is its ability to engage with Calgarians, and that community is unlike anything I have ever seen,” said Brady. “When it comes to wanting to support and wanting to help grow charity, as well as helping children within the community, it’s the most special thing I’ve seen in my years working in professional golf.

How quickly the community has rallied around this tournament is truly remarkable,” said Brady.

A more recent example of the Shaw Charity Classic’s strong community engagement occurred just last year, when restrictions put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced tournament organizers to cancel the in-person event. Despite the cancellation, Canadians rallied around the event’s charitable platform, helping to raise an astonishing $12.6 million in 2020.

“The pandemic may have been a big obstacle to staging the event but what it definitely proved was that the cancellation was no obstacle for people’s generosity,” added Shaw.

Having been the title sponsor of the event for nine years already, Brad Shaw says he’s looking forward to seeing the event continue to grow, while helping support the charities and organizations that are making a difference in the community.

“When you have this kind of successful event, not only in the amount of money raised, and the number of charities impacted, the number of families impacted, and the impact on the community in general, you have no choice but to just say that we need to continue to support this.”

Shaw Charity Classic champion Scott McCarron takes a photo with junior golfers in 2018

The tournament’s impact has been so significant that when Rogers and Shaw announced earlier this year their intent to join forces, it was also announced that support for the Shaw Charity Classic would be extended for up to 10 years, ensuring the tournament’s legacy of giving will continue to thrive for years to come.

“You look at Rogers commitment to extend its support for up to 10 years, it’s a significant vote of confidence for the tournament,” said Shaw. “And it’s also a recognition of its importance to Calgary and Alberta and the charities the event supports.”

As the Shaw Charity Classic looks towards the future and continues to grow its community support efforts, Brad Shaw can only marvel at how far the tournament has come in only nine short years. “It has truly become a staple, not only on the summer event calendar in Calgary, but it’s a mainstay now for charities in Alberta that work with kids and youth,” said Shaw. “They understand that the Shaw Charity Classic is vitally important to their fundraising efforts and it is only going to continue to grow.”

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