Golf breakfast draws large crowd

Two-and-a-half hours before tee time, Ben Crane and his caddie arrive at the course, spiral-bound notebooks in hand.


Every day of the 2011 season opens with a devotional, Crane told an early morning crowd of golf fans gathered for the Augusta Golf Breakfast, a Masters Week tradition at Warren Baptist Church.

"There's nothing that will fulfill you more through the tough times and the great times," said Crane, a Portland, Ore., native, in his ninth year on the PGA Tour.

More than 1,000 golf fans braved rainy weather and power outages for the 7 a.m. breakfast. Volunteers started cooking at 3:30 a.m.

Past events, with speakers such as Pat Summerall, Scott Lehman, Larry Mize, Zach Johnson and Stewart Cink, have drawn anywhere from 900 to 1,400 fans. This year's crowd was large, thanks to a full slate of appearances from both Crane and his wife, Heather, Augusta State University golf coach Josh Gregory, and Larry Moody, the PGA Tour chaplain for 31 years.

"Without a doubt, one of the most important events of Masters Week every year is this breakfast," said the Rev. David McKinley, the senior pastor of the church.

The Cranes' personalities and faith make them especially infectious, Moody told the crowd.

"These two walk it as well as talk it," he said. "They love the Lord with all their heart. They're real spark plugs on the PGA Tour."

Moody also called Crane one of the funniest golfers in history.

"If you don't get on YouTube and watch his exercise video, you haven't lived," he said with a laugh.

But it's not all highlight films and goofy clips, Moody said. There are early mornings and injuries and 25 or 26 weeks a year spent away from home.

"It's glamorized. You see the family on Sunday. It's happy and shiny," said Heather Crane, a mother of two who announced a third child on the way.

What fans don't see are the long hours lugging bags through airports while the family wrangles kids, she said.

The family made a commitment to travel together, even as it has meant home schooling their oldest, a 4-year-old daughter who will caddy for Crane in today's Par 3 Contest.

"A lot of guys try to do it by themselves," Ben Crane said. "We're just really trying to do it as a family. It's so much more fun with the crew."

And at the end of the day, Heather Crane said, the kids don't care how their father did on the course.

It's a healthy reminder that keeps his golf game in perspective, said Ben Crane, who hurt his back early in the season after playing one of his best rounds ever.

"It was a tragedy," he said. "I lost just about as badly as I won the day before."

He took a month off.

"It was a tough time, but it was really a time we relied on God for our faith. We just press into God's love," he said.

The Cranes have taken to using their downtime for charitable projects. They've organized annual golf tournaments that have raised $2 million for Love146, an organization working to end child sex slavery. Heather serves on its board of directors and traveled to Thailand and Cambodia to help the cause.

"The golf is fun, but all that's very fleeting," Heather Crane said. "It's one of the most rewarding things we do, to serve."

It's contrary to his natural tendencies, Ben Crane said, but he, too, has found it more fulfilling than golf.

"I serve myself all the time," he said. "I think constantly about my golf. How do I win the Masters? You just get going. Those times of service are the highlights of the year."

The love of God, he said, compels such a response in their lives.

"I grew up in a great home, but ultimately, I messed up all the time," he said. "I could never quite do it right. At a certain point, I realized if I could do better, I would have done it. I needed someone to guide me."

That's when Crane said he turned to God's grace and, on Tuesday, he invited others to do the same.

"He says if we knock, he'll open the door. That's what my life is about," Ben Crane said. "As a couple, we're trying to knock."