Douglas Combs--who retired last year at the ripe age of 32--hasn't always led a life of privilege. So with time, connections and vast resources at his disposal, he's doing what he can to support high school athletics in Fauquier County, his newly adopted home.
"I created opportunities for myself," said Combs, a Warrenton resident. "I'd like to help kids create opportunities for themselves."
All of which led to the creation of the Combs Cup, a two-day high school golf tournament that will take place Tuesday at South Wales Golf Club in Culpeper County and Wednesday at Bull Run Country Club Golf Course.
Public schools Liberty and Fauquier, along with county private school Highland, will participate in the tournament. Combs believes it is the only high school tournament in the country that plays a Ryder Cup-style format and matches public and private schools against one another.
Combs left home at age 15 and joined the Marine Corps about a year later. He had been raised by a single mother on welfare, and Combs joined the military to escape poverty.
He was stationed all around the world, and after leaving the Marines, he eventually made his fortune in European commodities. His investments were good ones, and last year, Combs retired as a multimillionaire with his wife, Ganilla, and two daughters, Catherine, 9, and Elizabeth, 6.
This is the second year of the Combs Cup (Liberty defeated Fauquier on the final hole of the tournament's second day last year). But this year's tournament has an added feature: Combs has used his business connections and his energy to compile an impressive list of sponsors. Titleist and Wilson, among others, will provide golf balls and other equipment. Tommy Hilfiger, TaylorMade and East Coast Headware will provide apparel. Pepsi will supply the drinks.
The goal is to make the Combs Cup a tournament that raises the profile of high school golf, Combs said.
"High school golf is a dying sport," he said. "You just simply don't get the spectators out there; you don't get the money out there; and local country clubs don't let the schools have the courses to help them improve."
Jerry Carter, Liberty's activities director, agreed.
"Whereas golf is booming in general, it's getting tougher and tougher for high schoolers to participate in golf," he said. "Every school in our district has a home course. But it's getting tougher for courses to let kids play on those courses for free."
Combs met Carter's father a few years ago on the golf course, and Combs and Carter later were introduced. Combs ended up contributing funds toward improving conditions at Liberty's baseball field, and he sponsored a Liberty-Fauquier football game, among other things. He also sits on the Virginia State Council of Higher Education.
"He loves doing stuff for kids, and it was his love for golf that made [the Combs Cup] natural," Carter said. "We were just throwing [the idea] around, and he finally said, 'Let's run with it.' "
Combs, 33, counts among his friends Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore; PGA Tour golfer Tom Pernice, whom he met on an airplane; and Larry L. Weeks, the chairman of the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors. Anne P. Petera, secretary of the commonwealth, is slated to present the trophy to the Combs Cup champion.
"I'm real popular in Fauquier County," he said.
His own story is a compelling one. After leaving his home in Indiana as a teenager, he spent 5 1/2 years in the Marines. While stationed in the former Czechoslovakia, he met his future wife, Ganilla, who was then a Swedish diplomat.
The couple bounced around the world for the next few years, spending some time in St. Louis, where Combs earned his bachelor's degree. They also spent 11 months living in Alexandria, before moving to Vienna, Austria.
They spent six years there, and Combs--despite his American upbringing--speaks with a slight eastern European accent. Combs worked at a European commodities company, quickly rose through the company ranks, then bought another company and eventually ran it.
He moved his family to Fauquier County in 1994. The family is now building a farm in Rappahannock County.
Combs started playing golf in 1992, after meeting two PGA European Tour players on an airplane. After meeting Pernice a few years later, he became an avid player.
"High school golf is not a spectator sport," Combs said. "So by getting the name of the tournament out there, we hope to attract more people. These kids really put their heart and soul into the event."
"From what I understand, Doug has his kids in private schools, but here he is giving his money to public schools," Weeks said. "He gives to their sports, for their fields, for their shirts. I guess you could say, for Doug, this is remembering from whence he came."
CAPTION: Douglas Combs lends much financial support to area high school sports.
CAPTION: Douglas Combs, 33, is using his many resources for Combs Cup, a two-day high school golf tournament featuring Liberty, Fauquier, Highland. "I'd like to help kids create opportunities for themselves," he says.