Birchwood Golf Course outing 
to raise money for multiple sclerosis research

By Lonnie Allen • Last Updated 9:33 am on Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Birchwood Golf Course owners Debbie and Mark Heath hold an annual golf outing to raise money for multiple sclerosis. The money raised goes to the University of Michigan for research and is used to help families suffering from MS in Montcalm and surrounding counties. The outing starts at 9 a.m. on July 21. — Daily News/Lonnie Allen


Play “Fore” the Cure for Multiple Sclerosis

What: PMS four-person scramble golf outing to benefit multiple sclerosis research and individuals from Montcalm and Mecosta counties and surrounding areas affected by MS.
Where: Birchwood Golf Couse, 6900 Masters Road, Howard City
When: 9 a.m. shotgun start on Saturday, July 21
Signup: Call Mark and Debbie Heath at (231) 762-4424; cost is $50 per team member, $200 per team (price includes greens fee, cart, prize fund and lunch.
Awards (based on 36 teams): $500, first place; $400, fifth place; $300, 18th place; $200 for four blind draws.
Helicopter golf ball drop: $5 for 1 ball and $20 for 5 balls for a chance to win a 42-inch flat screen TV, a Jim Beam digital smoker or a Kindle Fire.


HOWARD CITY — The Play “Fore” the Cure for Multiple Sclerosis (PMS) golf outing July 21 at Birchwood Golf Course is a way for owners Mark and Debbie Heath to raise money for research and help others who suffer with MS.

“We named it PMS as a way of getting people’s attention,” Debbie said. “There are so many fundraisers and golf outing these days that we felt this would help make our outing stand out. When we ask men to participate in the outing some say, ‘Well, isn’t that an outing for women?”

Multiple sclerosis is a degenerative disease that affects millions of people all over the world. There are four types of multiple sclerosis, which affects individuals differently. Diagnosis can be relapse remitting, primary progressive, secondary progressive and progressive relapse and each of which might be mild, moderate or severe.

Fundraiser is personal

The reason Mark and Debbie are so passionate about the outing is because Debbie was diagnosed with relapse remitting MS five years ago.

“I was real tired,” Debbie said. “Mark and I would go to the movies and I couldn’t stay awake.”
Though some of Debbie’s health issues were related to her neck problems but she knew there was something else going on.

“It was weird my legs would seem weak and not work right,” Debbie said. “I thought I was just a clumsy person sometimes when I would stumble or maybe it was the shoes I was wearing.

When she was diagnosed with MS she started looking back at times in her life when her body would do those things and now she relates it to the MS. The diagnosis may have been a relief knowing what was wrong but it still was hard adjusting to the news.

“After I found out I had MS I had a tough couple of years accepting (the news), and then trying to get my medications right was hard,” she said. “I just wanted to get back to living my life.”

It was reading more about the disease during first couple of years that Debbie began to realize the scope of the disease and for some people how expensive MS was to treat.

“I am very lucky,” she said. “I have great medical coverage and I can afford to get treatment for this disease. I knew I had to do something to help others who wasn’t as lucky as myself.”

Finding a way to help others

The Heaths began to hear about others in the area who were not able to afford what they could and that is when Debbie knew she was being called to help others.

“Without medications MS will progress a lot faster,” Debbie said. “I learned that many people couldn’t afford to pay for wheelchairs, their bills and their medications.”

The financial cost of the disease can take a toll on most people who may not have the quality of insurance the Heaths have. So they decided to have this fundraiser to raise money to help those in Montcalm and surrounding counties in the area in any way they can.

“With MS anything can happen, you just don’t know how it will affect you,” Mark said. “The money can be used to help from simple home repairs to helping pay for medications.”

The biggest obstacle the Heaths have after the fundraiser is finding people who need or could use the money.

“We can’t call local doctors and ask for peoples names who have MS,” Debbie said. “We just want people to know that we want to help.”

They have helped some of the same people for the past few years. But getting new people to ask has been hard.

“Maybe they don’t know we have the money to give them,” Mark said. “Or maybe it is a matter of pride. Some people may not want to ask for help.”

Debbie would like people to know she understands what MS can do to the family and how the expenses can build up.

“A lot of people are unable to work anymore,” Debbie said. “If I didn’t work here I probably would be unemployed too.”

Mark explained how well Debbie has it compared to others who may be struggling with employment.

“Debbie is lucky to have this job,” Mark said. “She can rest when she needs to.”

Helicopter ball drop

About 40 percent of the funds raised from the golf outing is from the helicopter ball drop.

People can buy a golf ball for $5 or five golf balls for $20. The drop is like a raffle and people can win a flat-screen television, Kindle Fire and other items throughout out the outing.

“Jimmy Bearens from Mid-Michigan Helicopter for the last three years has generously donated his helicopter, fuel cost and time to help us with this event,” Mark said.

According to the Heath family, each year the golf outing has raised on average $13,000 to split between research for the University of Michigan and to give to families in the area in need of help. The outing is every year on the third Thursday of July. This year the outing only has a few spots remaining if people want to participate. If people want to volunteer or are in need of any assistance and want to know more details they should contact Mark and Debbie Heath at Birchwood Golf Course in Howard City.

“Just give us a call here at the golf course,” Debbie said. “In the summer this is where you will reach me. It is all kept confidential so they don’t have to be embarrassed about seeking help.”

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