March 20, 2024

Best of the 2024 Cologuard Classic by Exact Sciences

The annual tournament unites pro golfers, cancer advocates, survivors, and many others with a single message: that colorectal cancer screening changes lives.

The Cologuard Classic by Exact Sciences has always been bigger than golf. 
The golf, of course, is legit. Each March in Tucson, Arizona, a 78-player field of PGA TOUR Champions competes over three days for a $2.2 million purse. Fans see household names in action, while proceeds from the event support colorectal cancer (CRC) awareness and provide funds for youth sports in Southern Arizona.  
At the same time, the event serves as a haven of love and support for those whose lives have been changed by CRC. 
Held for the first time at Tucson’s La Paloma Country Club, this year’s tournament delivered memorable moments both on and off the course.   

On the course 

Professional golfer Jerry Kelly wearing a ribbon in memory of Rob Andringa

Pairing with the pros: As part of a tournament tradition, all PGA TOUR Champions players in the field competed on behalf of a CRC cancer patient, a survivor, or someone lost to CRC. Throughout the competition, each player wore a blue ribbon bearing their honoree’s name and learned about how they have been impacted by CRC. Many honorees were able to attend the tournament and had a chance to meet the pro playing in their honor.  
Teeing off in the Pro-Am: During the tournament’s professional-amateur event, several CRC patients, survivors, and caregivers had a chance to play 18 holes with PGA TOUR Champions golfers and other special guests. The event gave participants an advance look at tournament conditions on the Jack Nicklaus-designed course, in the desert foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains.  

CRC survivors and advocates in the stands near the 15th green

Making connections: CRC survivors and advocates took advantage of a designated gathering place near the 15th green where they could watch tournament play and connect with one another. More than 250 survivors from 32 states and three countries attended the tournament.  

CRC patient Markham Rollins

Telling stories: Every survivor has a unique story. One attendee, Markham Rollins, was diagnosed with stage 4 CRC in 2023 at age 38 and has been going through chemotherapy. The Barstool Sports software engineer got to participate in a mini golf challenge with pro golfer Jerry Kelly and golfed in the Pro-Am event. His outfit for Dress in Blue Day on Saturday earned him honorary observer passes for Sunday, which allowed him to follow Kelly inside the ropes as he played the final round. “This week’s been incredible,” Rollins told PGA Tour Champions. “The organization, this event — words don’t even describe it. … I’m really just trying to take it all in and absorb it.” 
Crowning a winner: Joe Durant won the tournament’s iconic helmet-shaped trophy, awarded by local community coalition Tucson Conquistadores. Durant, who lost his nephew to cancer in 2023, golfed in honor of stage 4 CRC patient Amanda Meckstroth, who was on hand to see the win. During the closing ceremony, CRC survivors ringed the 18th hole wearing blue shirts designed by Tracy Comas, a CRC survivor representing the Colon Cancer Coalition.

Off the course 

Donating food for tickets: As part of a collaboration with the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona, anyone who donated a non-perishable food item or at least $5 received a general admission ticket for Saturday, March 9. The efforts resulted in the equivalent of more than 17,700 meals. Learn more about the food bank effort

  Vanessa Ghigliotty accepting her award from Jerry Kelly

Celebrating survivors: Each year, the tournament hosts Night of Champions, an event to honor those facing CRC. Former pro golfer and CRC survivor Charlie Rymer emceed. On hand were TV journalists and screening advocates Katie Couric and Craig Melvin, who both have lost close relatives to CRC. The tournament presented awards to a few in attendance: 
Vanessa Ghigliotty won the Jerry Kelly Award, created in 2023 to celebrate someone who embodies passion and commitment to advocating for CRC. The 21-year stage 4 CRC survivor and certified Patient Navigator brings tireless energy to her work, whether she’s speaking at conferences around the U.S., advocating for CRC on Capitol Hill, or celebrating with fellow advocates at the Cologuard Classic.  
Ed Stratton won the John MacLeod Champions Award, named for the late John MacLeod, an ambassador for CRC awareness and member of the Fight CRC Board of Directors. Stratton is a stage 4 CRC patient and has served as an ambassador for Fight CRC, volunteering his time and helping to raise money in the fight against CRC. 

Craig Melvin reporting live on NBC's Today show

Reporting live: Craig Melvin brought the tournament to life on NBC’s Today show. Blue-clad survivors and advocates gathered beginning at 5:30 a.m. to be part of the March 8 broadcast. “It’s a community that no one ever really wants to be a part of, obviously,” he said during a Today segment. “But … it’s a special bunch.” Melvin’s brother passed from CRC at age 43, which stoked the broadcaster’s drive to raise awareness. 
Sponsoring survivors: Grants from Exact Sciences and other donations help pay for CRC patients, survivors, and their loved ones from around the U.S. to attend the Cologuard Classic. The money goes to participating CRC advocacy groups that help identify people who might otherwise not be able to attend. Dozens of people have traveled to the event as part of this initiative, including an Indiana-based survivor named Leigh Anne. She says: “Folks like me get to be a part of this tournament. They get to be around other survivors and to network with them and to share stories, to meet the golfers, to be treated as though we’re honored guests because of our ability to say we’re cancer survivors. This allowed me the ability to come, despite other financial considerations, and to bring my husband and to enjoy this time with him.” Learn more about sponsoring a survivor