Six months cooped up in the Florida Capitol might put a damper on Sen. Bill Galvano’s golf game, but the Bradenton Republican isn’t too worried about it.
He’s hopeful his skills will come back to him when he hits the links later this week during the 21st annual Phil Galvano Classic at the Legacy Golf Club at Lakewood Ranch. And even if they don’t, he’s confident the annual event in memory of his father — golf pro Phil Galvano — will once again raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Manatee Education Foundation.
The elder Galvano wasn’t your run-of-the-mill golf pro. Born in 1915 to Sicilian immigrants, Phil Galvano grew up in New York City and started caddying on Staten Island to make some money. He would caddy two or three rounds of golf a day, with two bags on his shoulders.
It was through caddying he became interested in golf, becoming a PGA golf pro. But when he went looking for jobs, he was turned away. No one was interested in offering him a job, they told him should be a dance teacher not a golf pro.
Galvano said his dad didn’t give up, deciding if he couldn’t “get a job at the clubs, he would create his own golf instruction studio.” He had a friend who was J.P. Morgan’s niece and told her about his idea, and she let him borrow $2,000 to secure a space on 42nd Street to create an indoor golf studio. Clients would hit balls into a canvas, and the elder Galvano would be able to offer instruction just by looking at his swing.
He became successful, and soon scored his first big-name client — well, a client with big-name connections, at least. Bob Hope’s manager started coming in for lessons, and called Galvano his secret weapon.
Galvano said his dad responded by telling him he appreciated the praise, but telling him “I can’t be kept a secret.” The man told Hope, a well-known comedian at the time, about him, and soon Galvano was teaching Hope and other celebrities his tricks.
Phil and his wife, Betty, moved to Anna Maria Island in 1969. They first visited the community about a decade earlier on their honeymoon, at the suggestion of their friend Bill Mote, the benefactor of Mote Marine Laboratory.
Galvano said his father helped create an executive golf course in Manatee County. The course is now closed, and has become the Timber Creek community, according to the Bradenton Herald.
But his father’s memory lives on in other ways. Proceeds from the inaugural event — which was held in the Naples-Fort Myers area, where Phil and Betty Galvano were living at the time of his death — went to Hope Hospice. The following year, the Galvano family decided to move the event to Manatee County. A big believer in education, the golf tournament has supported the Manatee Education Foundation ever since.
“This is where his heart was,” said Galvano, who said his father often said if you “go to bed at the end of the night and can’t think of anything new (you learned), then you wasted the day.”
“We’ve raised millions in my father’s name for public education,” said Galvano.
That money, he said, goes toward enhancing education, and for the most part is used for min-grants that teachers can apply for to enhance his or her classroom. For example, he said science teachers can request a grant for a certain apparatus. The event has raised so much money over the years that Galvano said very few requests get turned down.
Last year’s tournament raised about $400,000, and he expects to surpass that this year. In addition to the Manatee Education Foundation, Galvano said a portion of funds raised will go to The Malala Fund, a nonprofit inspired by Malala Yousafzai that works to secure girls’ right to a minimum of 12 years of quality education.
Galvano, who is in line to be the next Senate President, said he gets a lot of support from his colleagues in Tallahassee and expects eight senators and several House members will be in attendance this year. The governor has attended in the past, as have other celebrities, like actor Armand Assante and golf legend Tony Jacklin.
Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino has attended the event for the past three years, and will be in attendance again this year. Galvano said he and Marino have become “dear friends,” and he loves the work Marino does for people with unique abilities.
Sponsors will get a chance to mix and mingle with Marino and Galvano during a private lunch and round of golf at the Longboat Key Club on Thursday, before the main event kicks off Friday at the Legacy Golf Club at Lakewood Ranch.