Bill McDaniels opened his first car dealership in the state capital 25 years ago. Even then, he had a charitable plan in mind.

"When I came to Columbia in 1989, I wanted our company to be involved as a sponsor," he told The Post and Courier this week.

McDaniels had recently lost his father to cancer at age 59. He was thinking about "a great way to honor hm."

At the same time, the local Palmetto Hospital was struggling to start a fundraising golf tournament to fight cancer.

Not long after, things began to take shape.

McDaniels started as the tournament's cart sponsor in 1990 and 1991. The next year, he achieved full sponsorship of what would become the Palmetto Health Foundation McDaniels Golf Classic.

To say that the fundraiser has been successful would be an understatement. In its first year, the classic raised $14,000. By contrast, the 2014 event held at Ft. Jackson Golf Club on April 26 brought in a whopping $384,000 for the Cancer Centers of Palmetto Health.

The golf classic has grown from a handful of organizers and golf teams to a staff of more than 100 people and 68 four-member teams teeing off this year. "Right now, it's become the event of choice," McDaniels said. Charitable sponsors emulate it as the benchmark of cancer fundraisers, he said.

Yet McDaniels isn't resting on his laurels. The objective for next year, which would be the 24th such classic, is half a million dollars, he said.

He credits a bulldog determination to ask for money and the willingness of donors to give to a good cause as reasons the fundraiser has flourished.

Columbia-based McDaniels Automotive Group sells Mazda, Porsche, Subaru and Volkswagen at its Midlands dealerships.

About a decade ago, the owner opened Acura of Charleston and then Audi of Charleston side-by-side on Savannah Highway. McDaniels typically visits the Lowcountry outlets once a week, and last month he attended Audi of Charleston's gala event for the new A3 national launch.

Yet even with a profitable business and involvement in a respected golf fundraiser, McDaniels was caught off guard by a statewide honor last month.

On April 24, Gov. Nikki Haley awarded McDaniels the South Carolina Order of the Palmetto.

The businessman has been "signature sponsor" of the Palmetto Health Foundation McDaniels Golf Classic for 23 years, an article on WIS-TV's website said.

The dealer has been the "driving force" in raising nearly $4 million for the Cancer Centers of Palmetto Health, according to the account. The story said a silent auction with this year's tournament raised $100,000.

"We're always proud when one of (our) own does well, doubly so now," the honoree's son Rob McDaniels, chief operating officer of McDaniels Automotive Group, told participants at the golf classic.

Rob McDaniels noted that The Order of the Palmetto stands as "the state's highest civilian honor awarded for extraordinary lifetime achievement and service to the state and nation. It is a once-in-a-lifetime achievement awarded by the Governor of the State."

McDaniels' credo of "improving the communities where we work and live should re-inspire us all to work tirelessly and selflessly in our endeavors for the greater good," Rob McDaniels said.

He told the golf classic participants to "remember the effect that the millions of dollars raised from this event have toward improving the lives of hundreds of cancer victims, and their loved ones right here in South Carolina."

According to the WIS account, the Order of the Palmetto honor took Bill McDaniels by surprise.

"This is indeed an honor and I accept it ... thank you so much for making it happen," he said.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.