From humble roots to 36 greens

In 11 years, Zak! Charity Open has raised $2.3 million for children’s causes; now it takes up two golf courses

Irv Zakheim, president and CEO of Zak Designs, enjoys golfing and supporting local children’s charities. Eleven years ago he combined the two activities in a small golf tournament and barbecue, inviting friends and business associates to join him.

“We started out fairly small,” he said. “We got to play golf and everything was good.” He estimates they raised $12,000 during that first tournament. But the Zak! Charity Open didn’t stay small.

Zakheim became friends with Super Bowl MVP Mark Rypien. “He was just starting up his foundation,” Zakheim recalled. The Rypien Foundation provides funding for local programs on the front line in the fight against childhood cancer. For Zakheim, partnering with the foundation made perfect sense.

In 2004, the Zak! Charity Open raised more than $128,000 and divided it between the Rypien Foundation and the Children’s Miracle Network. That success prompted even more interest and support in the community.

The following year, organizers expanded the event to include a dinner and auction. In addition, the Kalispel Tribe of Indians and Northern Quest Resort and Casino came on board as the title sponsor.

To date, the Zak! Charity Open has raised more than $2.3 million for area children’s charities. And the event continues to grow. This year for the first time, the event will include two golf tournaments that will run concurrently on Monday at Spokane Country Club and Manito Golf & Country Club.

But even those who don’t golf can be part of the action. On Saturday, Northern Quest will host the “Beat the Pros” celebrity poker tournament. Featuring professional poker players and celebrities like Phil Gordon, Erica Schoenberg, Blake Stepp, John Friesz and Rypien, the No Limit Texas Hold ’Em tournament offers a fun way to raise money for a good cause.

If neither poker nor golf appeals, seats are available for the Summer Celebration Dinner and Auction on Sunday. Entertainment will be provided by the comedy duo Brothers from Different Mothers.

Zakheim said all of the funds raised stay in the Spokane region. This year proceeds from the Zak! Charity Open will benefit the Rypien Foundation and Boys & Girls Club of Spokane County.

“This is our largest fundraiser of the year,” said Amber Masten of the Rypien Foundation. “One hundred percent of the proceeds we receive from the event go to the cause.”

In the past, the foundation has used the funds to create things like the Children’s Hospital Theatre and an open air terrace at Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital. Masten said this year the proceeds will go toward the music therapy program in the pediatric oncology unit.

Ryan Davenport, CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Spokane County, expressed excitement about being part of the Zak! Charity Open. “The awareness the event brings to the community is huge for us.”

Zakheim is thrilled to see how the tournament has grown and evolved over the years. For him, it’s all about helping kids. He said, “When I go down to the Boys and Girls Club or over to Sacred Heart Medical Center and see the kids we’re helping, there’s no better feeling in the world.”

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