Begay remains committed to remembering his roots

Notah Begay III tees off, Saturday, on the 15th hole during the San Juan Open golf tournament at San Juan Country Club (AP Photo/The Daily Times, Jon Austria)
Notah Begay III tees off, Saturday, on the 15th hole during the San Juan Open golf tournament at San Juan Country Club (AP Photo/The Daily Times, Jon Austria)

By Mark Smith /Journal Assistant Sports Editor

Albuquerque Journal

June 25, 2014

The greatest tip I ever received on a golf course happens to have come from the same guy who gave me the greatest quote I ever got while covering an event:

Notah Begay III.

As a senior at Albuquerque Academy during the 36-hole state golf championships in 1990, Begay had taken an ungodly lead after the opening round.

I knew there was no way he could lose, but I also knew – despite his remarkable skills – he was still just a high school kid.

So I tossed him a softball. Something like, “You’re up by double-digits, but you still need to just focus on your game and not worry about anyone else, right? I guess anything can still happen, right?”


Begay said something along the lines of “the only thing that can happen is I’m going to win. The only thing in doubt is if I will break the scoring record.”

Then came a quip for the ages:

“Today I waxed ‘em – tomorrow I’m going to buff ‘em.”

I didn’t want to bury the kid, so I called his dad, Notah Jr., and asked him what he thought.

“Print it,” Begay Jr., said with a belly laugh. “Print it. I love it.”

Sure enough, Begay III got the evil eye from just about every other kid, while they grumbled and stumbled through round 2. Begay III, meanwhile, went on to his second straight state title in record-setting fashion.

As for the tip, it came a few years later while playing a round of golf together. I hit an unlucky shot that bounced off a pole or sign or something, which started my usual whining about my bad luck.

Begay turned to me, held up his index finger and said “The game gives you what you deserve.”

I thought, “How true.”

If you’re playing well, the score almost always reflects it – and vice versa. More importantly, there are as many fortunate bounces in golf as unfortunate ones. They truly do even out in the long run.

That was more than 20 years ago, and I haven’t complained about a bad bounce since.

Home again

Begay, an Albuquerque native who now makes his home in Dallas, has been in town the past few weeks preparing for his inaugural Rio Grande Charity Slam. The event – with a junior golf clinic and banquet on Thursday and a celebrity golf tournament on Friday at Santa Ana Golf Club – is raising money for the Notah Begay III Foundation and the Jewish Community Center. His foundation raises thousands of dollars to launch, sustain and expand programming to combat health issues threatening Native children – more than 20,000 in 13 states of whom have benefited from the programs, and 75 percent of those in New Mexico.

Begay, a four-time PGA Tour winner and a full-blooded Native American, has been in the news a great deal the past year. He became an analyst for Golf Channel, has stayed very active with his foundation and made national headlines with a comment about Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder.

And – despite being just 41 – he suffered a heart attack in April.

On Saturday, after the third round of the 72-hole San Juan Open in Farmington, Begay and I shared a few laughs and a lot of thoughts.

Mark Smith: First off, how is your health?

Notah Begay III: Good. I mean, you wouldn’t be able to tell two months ago that I had a heart attack. I’m a little weak, I lost a little bit of distance in terms of my golf. But I got a lot back in terms of my health. I’ve gotten better, I’ve got more energy. I feel pretty lucky to have gone through it so well.

MS: Not to be too dramatic, but what was going through your mind when you were having the heart attack?

NB: Just shear shock. ‘How did I end up here?’ It was a complete surprise, in terms of, ‘I’m 41-years-old, I exercise on a regular basis, I eat well – and I had a heart attack.’ It wasn’t really until about three or four days after that I really started to ascertain all of the possibilities and outcomes that could have been. There’s been a lot of people in my situation that could have died, because they weren’t close to a hospital, or had more arteries blocked. I’m really lucky that it worked out.

MS: Your father also has serious health issues. (He recently became visually impaired, and last month was hospitalized for a couple weeks after falling down some stairs at home.) How much tougher has that made things?

NB: One of the toughest things with dealing with the heart attack, was my dad took that spill and broke his ribs. It all makes me realize even more so, what we teach (in the NB3F) about eating better, staying healthy, getting exercise. It’s been a tough time for sure. It opens your eyes even more so.

MS: This week you have your event at Santa Ana. Are you ready?

NB: I can’t wait. It looks like (former Lobo and PGA Tour pro) Tim Herron’s going to be here. We have a nice group of celebrities, and people who support what we’re doing. That’s all you can ask for.

MS: In April, you made news by telling USA Today you are against the Washington Redskins keeping their nickname, and you said owner Dan Snyder’s Original Americans Foundation was “more of a gimmick.” Did you have much controversy over your comments?

NB: No, not at all. I think most people would agree that the Washington football team needs to change its mascot name. Some would argue they should keep it. The simplest argument, which is not necessarily the right one, is it’s not an issue of being politically correct. Being politically correct is vastly different than using a dictionary-defined racial slur as a representation of a national franchise. I’m not trying to nit-pick on the political correctness, I just think we’re at a day and age that we should be demonstrating to the younger generations that we’re willing to embrace all the cultures.

MS: You and your brother Clint were raised in a house (on the 14th fairway) at Ladera (Golf Course). Do you ever go look from the backyard and think about old times there?

“My dad (and his wife, Claire) lives on the sixth green now, and I go to that back patio and watch people play the sixth green. And I think of how many times I’ve played the sixth hole. All the skins games, all the calcuttas, all the high school tournaments, the city tournaments – ever since I was 9 years old. Going from a junior playing in the Sun Country, to Stanford, to the PGA Tour to an analyst on the Golf Channel now? You couldn’t have written this script. Ever.

MS: You told me 20 years ago that you’d never forget your roots. This week shows you haven’t.

NB: A lot of that comes from my respect for the culture and tradition I came from, my dad and mom and the Native American heritage. I’ve since transposed that to the respect and admiration for 71 years at the City (Amateur) tournament, or 50 years (at San Juan Open), and how much goes into these events; how much the community and sponsors put into these events. These things don’t just happen by themselves. It’s a reflection of our love for the game. And so much has been given to me through golf, it would be very unappreciative for me not to give back through the game.

MS: Speaking of the San Juan, they listed the (third-round) cut as being the top 26 and ties. Initially, you missed by a shot. But then they decided to let in 33 players, including you, causing some players to call it “The Notah Rule.” But the sponsors enjoyed it.

NB: That’s too funny (laugh). On the PGA Tour, they always talk about “The Tiger Rules.” Now there’s “The Notah Rules.” I guess I’ve arrived.

MS: One last thing. We’ve talked about it before – the greatest quote in the history of sport. You remember it?

NB: (Belly laugh). I was a cocky senior at Albuquerque Academy (laugh). ‘Today I’m going to wax ‘em and tomorrow I’m going to ‘buff em (laugh).’ And I backed it up.

MS: And gave them a spit-shine, if I remember.

NB: Those were some good times.

Washington Redskins foundation loses another event sponsor


Erik Brady, USA TODAY Sports  April 13, 2014

Courtesy NB3 FoundationNotah Begay III
Courtesy NB3 Foundation
Notah Begay III

The Notah Begay III Foundation pulled its support from this weekend’s Arizona golf tournament to benefit scholarships for Native American students when it learned the title sponsor was the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation.

“I find it underhanded and despicable that the Washington football team would co-opt this event,” Crystal Echo Hawk, NB3 foundation executive director, told USA TODAY Sports on Sunday. “As soon as we found out about their involvement we withdrew our support.”

Begay, a four-time PGA Tour winner and an analyst with the Golf Channel, is Navajo, Isleta Pueblo and San Felipe Pueblo. He is a longtime critic of the Washington team name, which he called “a very clear example of institutionalized degradation” on ESPN last year.

MORE: Nonprofit National Indian Gaming Association pulls support

Echo Hawk, who is Pawnee, said the NB3 Foundation was asked in February to donate silent auction items for a golf tournament to be held in Chandler, Ariz., this month; the foundation donated golf apparel.

When she found out Friday that Saturday’s event was sponsored by the NFL team’s foundation, she called the radio station that asked for the donation. Echo Hawk spoke to Tony Little, general manager of Arizona radio station KTNN, and demanded that NB3’s name be removed from the event officially called the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation (OAF) 1st Annual KTNN Celebrity Golf Tournament.

“The NB3 Foundation does not support the Redskins or its organization OAF,” NB3 said in a statement. “We are adamantly opposed to the team’s continued use of this derogatory name.”

Echo Hawk said she believed OAF came in as title sponsor very recently. She said she asked Little how much money the football team’s foundation paid for that but that he couldn’t talk about it.

The Washington football team did not immediately return a message asking for comment. KTNN’s Little also did not immediately return a message asking for comment.

The National Indian Gaming Association, a nonprofit that includes 184 Indian nations as members, pulled its sponsorship Friday after learning of the involvement of the football team’s foundation, as reported by USA TODAY Sports that day.

Ernest Stevens, chairman of the gaming association, said his organization finds the team name offensive and he criticized team owner Daniel Snyder for starting the foundation.

“It’s a blatant attempt to try to buy out the issue,” Stevens said.

Contributing: Brent Schrotenboer

Begay Cuts Ribbon on World-Class Golf Course He Helped Design


By Lee Allen, ICTMN

The ‘ka-ching’ of cash registers and golfers hollering ‘Fore’ made last week’s opening of the Sewailo Golf Course outside Tucson a resounding success.

Sewailo (Flower World in the Yaqui language) is an 18-hole, par 72 course that measures 7,400 yards from the championship tees (with five tee boxes on each hole to accommodate players of all abilities). According to Sewailo’s general manager, Dan LaRouere, “The $28-million course will employ up to 90 workers, many of them tribal members.”

Notah Begay III, who designed Arizona’s Pascua Yaqui tribe’s course, said that Sewailo “will revolutionize golf in this part of the country as one of the top courses in Arizona. The course design, from routing of the holes to landscape architecture, will put us in strong consideration for a top ranking.”

RELATED Notah Begay III: Leading by Example

Begay won four PGA tourneys, became a businessman and a philanthropist before morphing into his day job as a commentator for NBC’s golfing events. He is also president of NB3 Consulting, the group that designed Segwailo.

Begay walked what was once a desert before conceptualizing a layout for the course – it’s the third course he has designed.

“These projects start from the standpoint of culture and it’s important we maintain a respect for culture and tradition in the communities in which we work,” Begay said. “I asked for guidance from our Creator as we shaped this course.”

During the official ribbon-cutting ceremony, a parade of speakers, many of them members of the tribal council, took turns at the podium to praise those who helped make it happen.

“We’ve gone from predictions that ‘you can’t do anything with this barren land’ to what we’ve already built – and we’re not going to stop here,” said Chairman Peter Yucupiccio.

Ty Butler collaborated with Begay on the course design and told the opening day crowd of some 300 attendees, “Vision and leadership from the tribe gave Notah and I a path to walk down, and as a result, we have a world-class golf course that will make an impact, not only in Southern Arizona, but nationally.”

Before hitting the ceremonial first tee shot, Begay said, “When I first came here, there was a lot of uncertainty about what a world-class golf outlet might do for the community, how it might stimulate economic growth.  Times got tough between groundbreaking on 12-12-12 and ribbon-cutting a year later, but this is a true collaboration. True in the sense that when times got tough, nobody ran. We stayed together and worked through it because we believed in the worth of the outcome.”

“I’ve seen the best courses in the country. I’ve played the best courses.  And things don’t get any better than what you’ll find at Sewailo.”



Notah Begay III: Leading by Example

By Lee Allen, ICTMN

All kinds of platitudes are applicable here, like, “Lead, don’t follow” or “To thine own self be true.”

Notah Begay III, perhaps the most ubiquitous Native American in contemporary society, subscribes to many of them—“The whole thing comes full circle,” says the good-looking man who tells a rags-to-riches story about becoming the first Native American on the Professional Golf Association Tour.

Now an NBC golf analyst, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Begay grew up with the sport after being introduced to the game by his father. How he got from a scrawny kid youngster in Albuquerque to a resounding success on several fronts should provide initiative to other young Natives chasing a dream.

“At the age of 6, I started collecting and recycling aluminum cans to raise enough money to buy a bucket of balls. By age 9, still a skinny little Indian kid, I introduced myself to the club pro and told him I’d work for nothing if I could practice on off-hours. From then until I went to college, I’d show up at 5:30 every morning and put in a couple of hours performing meaningless tasks like emptying trash, sweeping floors and parking golf carts. Then I’d get to practice from 8 a.m. till 6 p.m. every day—at no charge. I thought it was the greatest job in the world, because I got to hit as many golf balls as I wanted.”

By age 17, he was the No. 1 junior golfer in the country (with friend and later Stanford college roommate Tiger Woods at second). “There weren’t a lot of brown guys out there at the time, just me and Tiger,” he says.

RELATED: Tiger Woods and Notah Begay Talk Indian Country, Secrets of Their Success and Life After Golf

Graduating with a degree in economics, Begay went on to immediate professional success, winning four tournaments before he got injured. Then depression set in with a stint in jail for drunken driving. “Sometimes fate presents opportunities,” Begay said. “I landed on my feet and made the appropriate changes in my life to become better.”

Today the 41-year-old star gets to talk about the sport he loves as a commentator as well as designing new golf courses—like the Pascua Yaqui tribe’s 18-hole course set to open next month in Tucson.

Begay’s fame and fortune allowed him to expand his horizons through entrepreneurship (KivaSun Foods) and philanthropy (The Notal Begay III Foundation, a.k.a. NB3F), both directly connected with Native health.

In 2010, he and a partner invested in a company selling bison meat, “a challenging project,” he says, and one that again called on him to persevere.

“I thought because I was Notah Begay that I could do anything, and I found out quickly that’s not the case. In the extremely competitive food industry, nobody cares how far you can drive a golf ball, they just care if the product tastes good and is priced right.

“There were some dark days with the company nearly at the point of being down to our last dollar. We hung in there, solved problems and formed industry partnerships [sourcing bison from the 57-tribe InterTribal Buffalo Council]. Today we’re looking to surpass $5 million in sales and should approach copy0 million in sales in the next two years.”

Which brings us to the concept of cultural full-circle. “All the stuff in the for-profit world transferred into our non-profit work with the NB3 Foundation,” he says. A percentage of KivaSun sales gets donated to NB3 to support Native American health efforts through sports and education. “This is a lifelong commitment for me,” Begay says. “I’ll be doing it for decades to come, because that’s how long it will take to provide services to our Indian communities to address childhood obesity and the diabetes epidemic.

“If we don’t start making changes in our lifestyle choices, our people’s lifespans will continue to get shorter. Native American lifespans are the shortest of any U.S. minority group, and it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Asked to offer up something the general public doesn’t already know about him, Begay says he tries to set an example for others by being a good role model. “Marriage and fatherhood are not static commitments, and I work diligently to be a better husband and father. Home and family is the starting point of my day—it’s where I get my strength. And if I can’t set a good example within my own home, how can I help anybody else’s child?”

The man-who-made-it offers a message to Indian children trying for their own successes: “Don’t limit your dreams. Educate yourself, take care of yourself, push yourself to fulfill your goals.”



Tiger Woods to Join Notah Begay III for NB3 Foundation Challenge

By Leeanne Root, Indian Country Today Media Network

In announcing the field for the sixth annual Notah Begay III Foundation Challenge, Notah Begay III, the Navajo/San Felipe/Isleta four-time PGA Tour winner and Ray Halbritter, Oneida Nation representative and CEO of Nation Enterprises, parent company of Indian Country Today Media Network, saved the best for last.

Tiger Woods will join Begay on what they’ve dubbed Team USA on August 28 to raise money for health programs to benefit Native American youth.

Both Halbritter and Begay see the advantage of having a 78-time PGA Tour winner like Woods associated with the event.

“It really elevates the visibility,” Halbritter said during a press conference May 20.”

And while Begay said it’s always tough to get Woods because he’s in such high demand, he said Woods “understands the importance of what we’re trying to accomplish with our foundation and our initiatives and our programs and he’s such a big supporter of us.”

Team USA will also include Rickie Fowler, Navajo, who has competed in three previous NB3 Challenges and Bo Van Pelt, a PGA Tour veteran.

The four of them will be pitted against Team Asia and Team International in a combined best-ball format. Each team will have two pairs playing best-ball and the combined score of those two pairs will be the final score for that team.

Team Asia will feature eight-time PGA Tour winner K.J. Choi, PGA Tour veteran Charlie Wi, and two up and coming stars—2012 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year John Huh, the first person of Korean descent to win that honor, and James Hahn, who emerged on the scene last year.

Team International boasts players from Europe and South Africa including Lee Westwood, the former world No. 1 and 40-time professional winner, as well as 2011 Masters Champion Charl Schwartzel and Nicolas Colsaerts, who emerged as one of the stars from the winning European team from the 2012 Ryder Cup, and Henrik Stenson, 2009 Players champion.

The partnership between the Oneida Indian Nation and the foundation has raised more than $4 million in the past five years through the NB3 Challenge. And the exposure that partnership and other big names like Woods has brought the foundation has also helped the foundation obtain other important partnerships, like with Johns Hopkins University and more recently with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“The event has allowed us to garner more exposure for our work and when you have world-class partners like the Turning Stone Resort and everything it represents… it sets a precedent for future partnerships,” Begay said. “We didn’t have Hopkins when we started, we didn’t have Robert Wood Johnson when we started. We had Chairman Halbritter and myself and an idea—an idea to showcase something that has never existed in Indian country before, a world-class event that can compete with any event in the world and that’s exactly what we have.”

The partnership with Johns Hopkins has allowed the NB3 Foundation to better its programming and make it more effective for the Native youth they serve. Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health conducted a two-year study evaluating the impact of NB3 soccer programs at San Felipe Pueblo in New Mexico and found the programs have a significant impact on the physical fitness of Native American children.

“Basically, it’s called evidence-based programming, we make curriculum changes based upon the research and data that we’re compiling so we’re not moving the program in a direction because we feel like that’s the right thing to do,” Begay said. “We’re moving it in a direction because our evidence says it’s the right thing to do. It’s a better way to make our dollars work more effectively.”

Halbritter couldn’t be prouder to be partnered with Begay and his foundation.

“In many communities across Indian country parents are in danger of living longer than their children, which is a tragedy… We share Notah’s vision and appreciate his work to improve the lives of all American Indian youth,” he said. “We are taught culturally that all the things we have aren’t just for ourselves, they’re really for future generations so this is… exactly what we’re supposed to be doing. But not often do you get the opportunity to actually do it.”

The foundation works with Native youth to reduce the incidence of Type 2 diabetes and obesity. As Begay pointed out, “one in two of our Native American children will be classified as obese by the fourth grade and I think it goes up to six in ten will contract Type 2 diabetes in their lifetime.”

NB3 runs a number of soccer and golf programs that have benefitted more than 15,000 Native youth since the foundation’s beginning in 2005.

The NB3 Foundation Challenge will be held August 28 at Atunyote Golf Club in Verona, New York, which was named a 2012 Top 40 Best Casino Course by Golfweek, and Begay can see why. It’s one of his favorite courses.

“It’s gorgeous, there’s not a blade of grass out of place, the greens are always fast. It’s one of the premier golfing venues in the country. And I can always get a tee time,” he laughed.

Tickets to the 2013 NB3 Challenge are on sale now for $50 and can be purchased by contacting the Turning Stone Box Office at 315-361-SHOW.

Ray Halbritter, Oneida Nation representative and CEO of Nation Enterprises, parent company of Indian Country Today Media Network, and Notah Begay III, announce the 12-player field for the sixth annual NB3 Foundation Challenge. (Courtesy Oneida Indian Nation)
Ray Halbritter, Oneida Nation representative and CEO of Nation Enterprises, parent company of Indian Country Today Media Network, and Notah Begay III, announce the 12-player field for the sixth annual NB3 Foundation Challenge. (Courtesy Oneida Indian Nation)