Troy Hyde: Newton Cares Classic growing into charity powerhouse

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Jul. 19—When Brad Sponseller went to sleep Wednesday, he knew Thursday was going to be a long day.

But after another storm came through Newton and left a good chunk of town without power, his Thursday at Westwood Golf Course got much longer.

The 2nd Annual Newton Cares Classic golf tournament took place Thursday and Sponseller and his team at Westwood were up at the wee hours of the morning getting the course ready for action.

"I woke up at about a quarter after 4. There was no way I could fall back asleep because I saw the trees blowing when I went to bed that night," said Sponseller, who is the PGA Golf Professional at Westwood Golf Course. "When I got here at about 5, Nick Cummins and a few others were already here."

Cummins is the Park Operations Superintendent at Westwood. Him and his team arrived much earlier than normal to make sure the course was clear of all trees and things were ready to go for a tournament that hosted 120 golfers, including 20 celebrities.

United Way of Jasper County Executive Director Jessica Lowe Vokes is a co-chair of the Newton Cares Classic committee which had been working since December to make sure the annual tournament runs smoothly.

The rest of the committee includes Sponseller, Danielle Rogers, Brian Laube, Craig Armstrong and Randy Ervin.

Proceeds raised from the Newton Cares Classic help dozens of Central Iowa programs from food assistance to homeless prevention, before and after school programs to counseling for victims of domestic abuse.

This year's funds split between United Way of Jasper County for its work with health and human service programs and Friends of Newton Parks to improve Newton's park system.

I had a first-person look at this tournament as a volunteer. Lowe Vokes is a friend and when she asked me to help, my response to her was as long as I didn't have to work, I would be there.

My job was to drive celebrity guest Greg Brunner, a former Iowa Hawkeye basketball great, around on a golf court and make sure he had everything he needed throughout the day.

Brunner was an easy assignment. He cared about his golf game and his FNNB team was "in it to win it," which they did with an 18-hole score of 53.

The rest of Brunner's winning team included Rob Kahn, Jeff Osby, Joe Stover and Keven Simmer. They did not have a bogey and turned in three eagles.

Watching good golf on a beautiful day for a great cause was an easy task. And I already volunteered to help in 2022.

"We have a great event and I think everyone really likes it," Lowe Vokes said. "We can't do this tournament without our sponsors, the players or the celebs. The celebs do make this tournament stand out from other tournaments that are held out here."

The Newton Cares Classic started in 2019. There was not a tournament in 2020 due to COVID-19.

The celebrities who have been part of both tournaments include Tim Dwight, Scott Siepker, Nate Teut, Merv Krakau and Kahlil Carter.

Lowe Vokes and her team, with the help of many in the community, were able to add several celebrity guests in 2021, including Brunner, Casey Blake, Jess Settles, Levi Paulsen, Tyler Kluver, rodeo clown Jason Dent, Sean Roberts, Brooks Reynolds, Mason Mitchell, Elias Johnson and Fred and Patrick Jackson.

The tournament also featured a few local celebrities in Garrett Sturtz, Nick Easley and Carson King.

Jessica Sindlinger, a former state champion golfer in Iowa and former Iowa Hawkeye, was part of the runner-up team which shot 54. That team's celebrity golfer was Tim Dwight.

"We have some connections, we asked the ones who played before to come back and we have quite a few 'my nephew knows his or her daughter so they can connect you' situations," Lowe Vokes said. "We had people from the entertainment industry, people from football, basketball, hockey, racing and baseball. We were lucky to have the celebrities we had this year."

They also were lucky the overnight storms didn't ruin a well-organized golf tournament.

"There were four trees down by the driveway and around the course, which is never good," Sponseller said. "(Cummins and his team) got started at 5:15 a.m. or so. Typically, they don't get started that early, but they knew we had something going on today and they knew we had to get it done and get it ready.

"Those guys do such a great job. As little of people as we have, we have good workers. It probably took a good six or seven hours to get the golf course ready and that doesn't include mowing the greens and mowing the tees. I was set and ready at about 10:30. So it took me five hours to get my work done and that's carts, cart signs, keys and all the signs out on the course."

While the overnight storms weren't ideal, the weather for the tournament was almost perfect.

"Brad and his team out here are amazing," Lowe Vokes said. "The course looked great. They were here really early to get things going.

"You are always at the will of Mother Nature for outdoor events, but we lucked out."

There were 15 teams in the 2019 tournament and 23 teams in 2021. In two years, the tournament has raised $23,000 and impacted more than 30 different programs and nonprofits in Jasper County and Central Iowa.

"And we are just getting started," Lowe Vokes said. "The goal is to make a little bit more money every year and to make this a regional draw so we can get more and more non-profits involved. We hope to make this into a mini Principal Charity Classic."

Contact Troy Hyde at