Q & A with Gary Stokan, CEO and President of Peach Bowl, Inc.

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Golf
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Written by Lauren Bassett

On Tuesday, April 30, Reynolds Lake Oconee will host the 13th annual Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Challenge, a charity golf tournament featuring NCAA head coaches and former athletes and celebrities from the same school competing against their rivals for a share of a $650,000 scholarship purse. We sat down with Gary Stokan, CEO and President of Peach Bowl Inc. since 1998, to discuss college football’s most charitable bowl organization and the special role that the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Challenge plays in that.

The Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Challenge began in 2007 and has distributed $7.6 million in scholarship and charity since then. What lead you to create this event?

I wanted to create an event to build relationships with coaches and schools and also where we could accomplish our mission of giving back. Half of the money from the purse goes to the coach’s charities and the rest goes to create scholarships at their school. Even though the coaches and celebrities are competing, they are enjoying memorable experiences.

Reynolds is home to six award-winning golf courses. What other factors made it a good place to host this event?

Reynolds along with The Ritz-Carlton is a tremendous setting to host. Besides the wonderful facilities and the beauty of the lake, the true asset is the people there. The people that work at Reynolds and The Ritz-Carlton really have the spirit of partnership and service. From breakfast to on the course, there is always hospitality to be found. When you put your name on something, you want it to be something you are proud of and Reynolds always delivers excellence.

You oversee many events including the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. What makes the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl Challenge special?

While it is always valuable to have good ideas, true success lies in the ability to execute those ideas. Between our team, Chick-fil-A, and Reynolds, we have a special relationship built on teamwork and respect. The most important and special factor about this event is that it is all about the people. We want to fulfill our mission and provide lasting memories. Another unique component of the Challenge is that no media is allowed, allowing our coaches to relax and enjoy the competition and friendly camaraderie.

These coaches compete fiercely on the football field each fall. How does that dynamic translate to the golf course?

With this event, we wanted to encourage fellowship and hospitality. It comes after all of the coaches’ spring games, so we created a setting where they can come to relax. Though they all want to win, the focus is really on raising money for a good cause and enjoying each other’s company. Many of the coaches, including Nick Saban (Alabama) and Frank Beamer (Virginia Tech), say this is their favorite event of the year.

What are you looking most forward to about this year’s Peach Bowl Challenge?

We will also be hosting the second annual Legends Tournament, consisting of eight former coaches who will be vying for a share of a $50,000 purse that will go toward their selected charities. We started this last year after celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. We wanted to remember where we came from and those coaches that helped elevate our brand, so we reached out to retired coaches and invited them to play in this special tournament. I am excited to see those coaches and continue this tradition.

Over 13 years, I am sure you have made many great memories. Are there any that stand out?

One of my favorite memories was from a couple of years ago. On tournament day, I ride a cart around and try to see each competitor play at least one hole. As I was approaching Hole 18, I came across Nick Saban and Mark Ingram as they were going back and forth between play-off holes. Saban had a speech in Alabama that evening and he began to tell Ingram that he had enjoyed playing but would have to get going. But Ingram replied, “Wait Coach, you have always taught me to compete to win so we are going to stay and win this thing!” It was just very cool to see that switch in roles where the player motivates the coach.

We also have an on-going prank that began a couple of years ago with Dabo Swinney (Clemson). Before he went to the tee on a long drive hole, we pulled him to the side for an interview. While he was distracted, we switched his ball for an exploding golf ball. His reaction was priceless. We decided to carry on the prank and Swinney switched Dan Mullen’s (Florida) ball last year. Now it is Mullen’s turn!

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