Bill Murray is one of America’s great pranksters, the funny guy who became a household name on Saturday Night Live before playing a gopher-obsessed golf assistant named Carl Spackler in Caddyshack, and then a ghost chaser in the movie Ghostbusters. And he cuts a swath everywhere he goes, whether he’s playing golf in head-to-toe camouflage gear or skydiving to raise money for the USO. “He’s a presence,” says his youngest brother, Joel Murray. “He can take a room from zero to 60 depending on the mood he’s in.”
But if you want to watch the funny guy turn serious, ask Bill Murray about philanthropy. Giving back, he says straight-faced, is a responsibility, not an option. And the centerpiece of his personal efforts is one of the nation’s largest and most successful charity golf events, the Murray Bros. Caddyshack Charity Golf Tournament, hosted by Bill and his five brothers in St. Augustine, Fla., home of the original Murray Bros. Caddyshack Restaurant.
The annual tournament allows Murray 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 at the World Golf Village in St. Augustine, home of the World Golf Hall of Fame. 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 Murray. “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.”
Now in its 12th year, the Murray Bros. Caddyshack Golf Tournament has raised more than $2 million for charities, including St. Vincent’s Mobile Health Outreach Ministry, The Guardian Catholic Schools, Florida School for the Deaf and Blind, and Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation. The tournament is so large it’s now hosted on three area courses. It brings in some heavy hitters from sports and entertainment who have become regulars: country music star Darius Rucker; former Caddyshack cast members, including Cindy Morgan, who played Lacey Underall; actors Kevin Sorbo, Melissa Joan Hart and Kristy Swanson; late-night talk show host Jimmy Fallon; golfers Fuzzy Zoeller and John Daly; as well as former players from Murray’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 longtime Murray friend Chris Seely, who serves as director of the tournament. “And of course, they need to play some decent golf or at least have the right handicap.”
On the contrary, Murray 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, Murray, who has a 13 handicap, is a pretty good golfer and the consummate host, making a point of interacting with every player, taking scores of pictures, cracking jokes and delivering a one-liner that leaves everyone in stitches. (In a previous tournament, Murray 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.”)
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—or five, if you count sister Nancy, who is a nun and toured with a one-woman show about the life of St. Catherine of Siena. Brian Doyle-Murray co-wrote the script for Caddyshack, which was inspired by the brothers’ experience working summer jobs as caddies to help pay for their Jesuit high school tuitions. Bill Murray’s son Cooper Murray makes his acting debut performing with his dad in the movie Moonrise Kingdom, which is one of two Bill Murray movies due out this year. The other is Hyde Park on the Hudson, in which he plays Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Giving back is another Murray family tradition. “It’s just how we were brought up,” Bill Murray says. Joel Murray 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, tournament director Seely says Bill Murray will do just about anything. In 2008, he jumped out of a plane at the Chicago Air & Water Show to raise money for the USO of Illinois’ 50th anniversary. He often accepts invitations to play in celebrity golf tournaments and, when he can’t go, he makes donations. Just last fall, Murray and Darius Rucker acted as coaches in the “Slim Down the South” charity softball game in Rucker’s hometown of Charleston, S.C. Proceeds benefited childhood obesity programs through the nonprofit organization Louie’s Kids and Run Buddies.
Among the tournaments Murray plays each year is the AT&T Pebble Beach National 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 the PGA Tour’s Charities Inc. His presence alone each year draws thousands of spectators and usually provides a few memorable moments that wind up on ESPN—like him in a camouflage suit, putting backward or tickling a cameraman in the tournament this year.
With the Caddyshack tournament, Murray 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—like hosting an auction in 2007 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 broadcast on the Discovery Channel. Murray 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,’ ” Murray 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.”
While Bill Murray 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.”