Pictured after the award presentation are PGA Board members Jack Connelly (Honorary President) and Brian Whitcomb (Secretary), Gill's wife Amy Grant, Gill, and PGA Board members MG Orender (President), Roger Warren (Vice President), and Jim Awtrey (CEO). photo: Courtesy of the PGA of America
Though the country music star has carried a love of the game since he was a toddler and has given back to the game in innumerable ways, he didn't believe that at age 46, he was worthy of the praise. "It's kind of hard to even fathom it, in all honesty," Gill said in a news conference following the ceremony. "The truth is that my love for golf is as passionate as my love for music, but music is where I make a living. So anytime something comes from music, I understand that, but this comes because I love the game of golf."
A native of Norman, Okla., Gill founded the Vinny Pro-Celebrity Golf Invitational in 1993, which has raised more than $3 million in funds to the Tennessee Golf Foundation. BMI is long-time supporter of the Vinny.
In addition to supporting more than 60 charitable organizations or causes listed on his web site, VinceGill.com, Gill is a spontaneous giver to whomever may ask his help. He has also been involved with The First Tee program and helped develop the Golf House Tennessee in Franklin, Tenn., which allows many children to get their first experience in the sport. Former President George H.W. Bush and his wife visited Gill several years ago in Nashville during what was a two-part visit. The Bushes were celebrating their wedding anniversary and paying tribute to Gill, a friend who has enhanced The First Tee program in Tennessee. He says that his mission to help juniors is one of the most satisfying things in his life.
"If you give a kid at least one opportunity, I'll bet on him every time," said Gill during his acceptance speech, in which he also honored his father, the late Judge J. Stanley Gill, who started his playing career in the cotton pastures of rural Oklahoma, and his mother, Jerene, who was credited for her vital role in developing a love for the game.
"In the 18 years I spent at home, I didn't get to play with my old man so much," Gill said. "But, my mom was always there. I can remember playing often 54 holes a day and as the sun went down, I could see the headlights coming down the road. I knew it was my momma's car coming to get me."
The PGA Distinguished Service Award, first bestowed upon Herb Graffis in 1988, commemorates notable golfers who have the integrity, sportsmanship, leadership, humanitarianism and enthusiasm to better the game. Jokingly, Gill said he qualified for the award in four of the five categories making light of his occasional fits of anger on the course. Despite the self-deprecation, Gill has done wonders for the game he started at the age of seven.
Gill closed the evening with some thoughts of renewal in his game plan. "I appreciate this award and am grateful," said Gill, with a well-timed pause. "But, I'm going to work on my game and be coming back to win the Wanamaker [Trophy]."