The grueling life of professional golf led Betsy King to her Christian faith. Yes, the legendary LPGA Tour player Betsy King, who won 34 LPGA events, including six majors, had a moment of “crisis” when she began her professional career.
King knew that in order to succeed on tour, she needed to attach to something bigger than herself. That led her to Christ. And her faith in Christ led her to start Golf Fore Africa – an organization that partners with World Vision, dedicated to providing families access to safe water in the rural parts of Rwanda and Zambia, where clean water can take hours to find.
In 2006, King and 12 other women took their first trip to Africa with World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization whose stated goal is “helping children, families and their communities overcome poverty and injustice.”
Poverty is everywhere. Injustice is everywhere, and World Vision is dedicated to local and global charity – thus Golf Fore Africa was a perfect platform to reach the communities on the outskirts, in the poorest areas of their countries and without the most basic physiological needs. King sought to enlist players from around the world, linking her passion for golf to her compassion for children.
“I know how charitable golf can be, so we started hosting golf events to raise money. We raised a quarter of a million dollars to provide for education, health, food and water for communities in southern Rwanda, and it just continued from there,” said King, who has donated over $1 million of her own money to Golf Fore Africa.
In 2007, the charity raised $250,000 to help orphans and vulnerable children in Mudasomwa, Rwanda – an area that was devastated by the 1994 genocide. When King arrived at the Mudasomwa airport, images flashed through her mind from the books she had read about the genocide, but no book can properly relay the tragedy of almost 800,000 people murdered and 2 million refugees.
“It hit me so hard [when I landed] because what had set [the genocide] off was the crashing of the plane in that airport," King said. "The president of Rwanda and the president of Burundi were killed on that plane crash in 1994 and hours later the genocide started.”
The atrocity of genocide destroys entire populations, leaving empty countries, empty spaces and empty memories. King witnessed first-hand on her trip to Rwanda, how women and children are affected the most in impoverished areas. She strongly believes that if you really want to change a community, you need to help the women.
“When the women have help, then they can help the families who then, in turn, help their communities,” King said. “Within the water space, women and girls, particularly, lack access to clean water. As a child, girls are taught to walk to get water, so if they don’t have a clean water source nearby, girls have to miss school because they’re walking for water. Women are affected because they can’t spend as much time with their family if they’re walking for water, and if it’s not clean water, you can imagine the impact it has on a community.”
King and her World Vision team came up with a plan. In places where water is scarce, what can provide a reliable and ample supply of water for homes, schools and health clinics?
“Water seemed so basic to do any development,” King said. “But it’s very difficult to do development when there isn’t proper access to clean water. World Vision is the largest provider of clean water in the world and brings clean water to a new person every 10 seconds, so it was easy for [Golf Fore Africa] to step into that space.”
Since its founding in 2007, King has helped raise $11.7 million for projects in Africa – specifically hand-pump wells for communities and also mechanized systems for schools and health clinics. In the last 4-5 years, most of their work has continued in Zambia, where about 40% of the country still lacks access to clean water. King has learned through her partnership with World Vision that “you can’t just come into a community, dig a well and leave.” She recognizes the importance of developing relationships and learning together as a means for making lasting changes.
“The World Vision model relies on community leaders to help educate the community on what needs to be done before a well is made, and after 20 years, more than 80% of wells are still in operation,” King said.
Since King’s first trip in 2006, she’s made 25 visits to Africa, taking donors to see the work they’ve funded. Additionally, other LPGA players such as Amy Olson; Cheyenne Woods; Juli Inkster, who took her two daughters; and Mo Martin have taken trips to support the Golf Fore Africa mission.
Additional players have participated in Golf Fore Africa events and supported the foundation through donations. Martin has helped fund at least four wells and has raised over $16,000. Her goal this year is to raise $100,000 and fund two mechanized systems.
Olson wrote her own narrative, which the LPGA Tour later published, on her experience traveling to Zambia in 2015. “At one of the villages a woman was thrilled that she would have water within a 15-minute walk from her home. She asked us, ‘How far do you have to walk from your village to get clean water?’” Olson wrote.
She didn’t know how to respond.
Ever since, Olson has been a large supporter of Golf Fore Africa. “She represents Golf Fore Africa on her hat and bag, and we don’t pay her anything for that,” King said, filled with gratitude from the support from the current generation of players.
Woods, who also accompanied Olson to Zambia, helped raise over $15,000 to fund wells in the communities lacking access to clean water.
“It’s been an unbelievable week with these women!” Woods captioned her Instagram post following her trip. “Thank you Betsy King and @golfforeafrica for an unforgettable experience helping @worldvision provide clean water to those in need.”
COVID-19 has currently halted trips to Africa, but in the midst of a pandemic, in which people lost loved ones and were separated from friends and family, thousands continued to give to Golf Fore Africa.
In 2019, Golf Fore Africa granted $2.2 million to World Vision, its second most successful year. In 2020, they raised $2.3 million and granted $1.8 million to World Vision.
“It’s really important to be involved in a cause bigger than yourself and not to wait,” said King. “You’re never going to be established enough. You need to start helping now, whatever that cause may be.