MUSCATINE, Iowa - From the white tees, the 3rd hole at the Geneva Golf and Country Club is a 150-yard par 3 with an inviting green. For many players it's a nice 7 or 8 iron followed by a birdie putt.
Except when there's prizes on the line and music is blaring and Tom Hendricks is at the tee box dressed in polka dot boxer shorts, orange Crocs and a visor with an attached spiky-haired toupee.
"Fore!" he yelled after one slightly errant shot, scattering players on the next tee. But the ball found a bunker guarding the 3rd green, well wide of the players on the fourth tee.
"Just kidding," he told the startled players. Then, to a visitor: "It's always fun to mess with them."
All kidding aside, Hendricks, who owns a Taco John's restaurant in Muscatine, takes his job as the unofficial master of ceremonies for the 12th annual Muscatine Charities Golf "Funraiser," held Thursday, very seriously - despite his daffy decor and commentary not normally found on the links.
"People keep coming back to this event year after year, spending their money to support programs in Muscatine," he said. "People want to see they're being a part of Muscatine getting better."
"I might yell (while the ball's in the air)," he added, "but I always shake each golfer's hand and thank them for coming."
This year's tournament drew 177 entries, who paid $195 each to play. In addition to green fees and use of a cart, each player was rewarded with a package of tee gifts, lunch, dinner - and plenty of cold drinks found at each hole.
Some drinks even packed a bit of a kick.
Around the course, volunteers sold just about anything they could think of to raise money for the 40 or so organizations that will benefit from the event.
At the 3rd hole, Debbie Holmes and Heather Poole danced to the tunes they played and sold chances at prizes: golfers could pay them $20, and if their ball landed on the green, they'd win a fleece pullover.
Holmes and Poole were two of 38 volunteers seated at every hole in the course.
"We like being here with Taco Tom," Holmes said. "He's a party guy. What's not to love?"
Back in the clubhouse, John Axel, like Hendricks one of 14 Muscatine Charities Inc.'s board members, said the tournament's success can be tied to two factors: it's one big charity golf tournament, rather than many small tournaments held throughout the summer, and the winning attitude exhibited by all the volunteers.
"People tell us they keep coming back because the camaraderie is good, the food is good, they like the way they're treated, and they enjoy the tee gifts," he said. "It gives people the feeling that they are wanted."
An added bonus is that no one keeps score. Players vie for prizes at each hole, including closest to the pin or longest putt made, but in the end everyone's a winner.
Especially considering the quality of the raffle prizes: Musco Lighting, for one, offered one lucky entrant a week with three buddies at the Daytona 500, expenses paid.
For Axel, the payoff comes after the money is awarded all over town each year.
"The board looks forward to this day every year," he said. "It's all about the kids and the people who need a little extra help. That's where we get our satisfaction."
By the numbers
Now in its 12th year, the Funraiser has to date raised $1.3 million, all for charity.
The first Funraiser raised $17,500 for seven charities. Proceeds roughly doubled each of the next two years, and cracked the $100,000 mark the fifth year. The top year was 2008, when $207,000 was raised for 32 charities.
If 2010 is like last year, the Funraiser will award scholarships to almost 200 children so that they can attend preschool for free. The event also funds an after-school homework program, the "Shop with a Cop" program, Special Olympics, Children's Miracle Network, Junior Achievement and dozens of other programs.
When the Funraiser started in 1998, about 50 percent of eligible students attended preschool in Muscatine. Today, because of the Funraiser and the increase in state support for Iowa's preschools, that number exceeds 95 percent. "That," predicted Tom Hendricks, "is going to increase our graduation rate."
For more information, visit www.muscatinecharities.org.