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BMW Charity Pro Am begins Thursday

The stars will shine during the day starting Thursday in Polk County.

The BMW Charity Pro-Am Golf Tournament will kick off tomorrow morning at Bright&squo;s Creek Golf Club in Coopers Gap Township, and a star-studded lineup will be playing the course at the development on Palmer Road.

The stars playing the Pro Am this year will rotate between Bright&squo;s Creek, Thornblade in Greenville, S.C. and Carolina Country Club in Spartanburg on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with finals scheduled for Sunday.

Paired with professionals on the Nationwide Tour, the celebrities hope to draw in a crowd to raise money for many regional charities.

The first seven BMW Charity Pro Ams raised more than $5.7 million for more than 80 charities. This year, more than 50 charities will benefit from the Pro-Am, including seven local organizations: FENCE, Hospice of the Carolina Foothills, Polk County Red Cross, Polk County Sheltered Workshop, Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry, The Foothills Village and the Tryon Fine Arts Center.

Thursday&squo;s lineup of celebrities at Bright&squo;s Creek will include Full House star and comedian Dave Coulier; hockey star Wayne Gretzky and his wife and son, Janet and Ty; movie star Kurt Russell; former NFL football players Sterling Sharpe and Kordell Stewart; television star Kevin Sorbo and television&squo;s &dquo;Rules of Engagement&dquo; stars Oliver Hudson and Patrick Warburton.

On Friday, television stars Catharine Bell and Jason Dohring will play, along with movie star Greg Kinnear; television and movie star Michael Pena; movie star Joe Pesci; movie star Dennis Quaid; the 2007 winner of &dquo;The Apprentice,&dquo; Stefanie Schaeffer; &dquo;King of Queens&dquo; star Gary Valentine and movie star Luke Wilson.

On Saturday, celebrity players will include country singers Steve Azar and Pat Green; singers Javier Colon and Josh Kelley; television and movie star Cheech Marin; musician Branford Marsalis; golf journalist Jennifer Mills; golf commentator and course designer Ben Wright; Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers and Super Bowl quarterback Mark Rypien will be playing.

The professional winner of the tournament will take home $121,500 of the $675,000 purse.

The amateurs and celebrities will compete for individual prizes and cash prizes that they can donate to the charity of their choice in this year&squo;s local beneficiaries.

Bright&squo;s Creek developer Barton Tuck said he expects that the course will have around 2,500 to 3,000 spectators each day. He also expects to have more than 100 players on the course each day.

Bright&squo;s Creek is closed for the week to host the tournament, but its members haven&squo;t complained, Tuck said. He said they are probably looking forward to seeing the players and celebrities on the course.

Tuck has hosted PGA and LPGA tournaments at courses at some of his other developments in the past, he said. Between staff and lots of local volunteers, Tuck says Bright&squo;s Creek is ready for the tournament.

Marshall Bettendorf, tournament director, says there are 1,400 volunteers at all three of the golf courses for the Pro-Am this year, with 200 of those volunteers working at Bright&squo;s Creek.

Bright&squo;s Creek will also be donating items for an auction that will be held on Saturday night.

&dquo;All the money goes to charity,&dquo; Tuck said. &dquo;BMW does such a great job raising funds through the tournament.&dquo;

Tee times will be from 8:30 to 10:40 Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The tournament will use a shotgun start, with half the players starting at hole 1 and half starting at hole 10.

The tournament is open to the public. Tickets are $25 for all four days and are available at Bright&squo;s Creek or at 864-297-1660. For more information about ticket options, check www.bmwusfactor.com/community/golf.

The tournament will also be aired on the Golf Channel from 1 to 3 p.m. Thursday and Friday and from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.