Diane Soroka and her friends had hoped to wear their blinged-out baseball caps while playing a round of golf in the Babe Zaharias Memorial Tournament held recently at The Greens at Half Hollow in Melville.

Soroka, 60, had bought the bright pink caps, emblazoned with "GODDESS" on the front, in a Las Vegas shop.

Thinking they'd coordinate well with the pink shirts, ribbons and lapel pins worn at the tournament to raise breast cancer awareness, she handed them out to members of her foursome - Margie Raab, 61, Betty Magliato, 63, and Mary Scioscia, who described herself as "over 55."

Like other players in the all-women tournament, they reside at The Greens, a retirement community built around a golf course for ages 55 and older in Melville. 

Rain outside, games inside
But a steady downpour on a recent Tuesday scuttled their tee-offs at the community's fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. Determined to make the best of it, their caps became card-playing visors as they made canasta melds under an awning at The Greens clubhouse.

"We're the best golfers -- we came in first place two times," said Soroka, as she played her canasta hand. "We'd rather be playing golf," she said.

But the wet weather didn't dampen their zeal to help raise money for breast cancer research.

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Raab spent the past year making a pink quilt, which was displayed in one of the clubhouse rooms.

Bearing inscriptions handwritten by loved ones of cancer victims, the quilt will soon hang in an American Cancer Society office in Syosset, Raab said.

"I do it to support my family and friends [who are cancer survivors], and so my children and grandchildren will never have to be affected by this disease," she explained.

Since 1972, Long Islanders have been holding golf tournaments to raise money in the name of Babe Didrikson Zacharias, a world-famous golfer and all-around athlete who died of colon cancer at age 42 in 1956.

But The Greens, a community with an economically diverse population, has in six short years become one of the Island's powerhouse fundraisers for cancer research and education.

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With energetic fundraising, tireless voluntarism and handmade decorations festooning their clubhouse, the community nestled in a swath of greenery near the Nassau/Suffolk line has continued to surpass expectations, year after year.

It's the only retirement community on Long Island that holds a Babe Zaharias tournament.

"They are 'The Little Engine that Could'," said Peggy Silbert, Babe Zaharias Memorial Events director for the American Cancer Society in Syosset. Although some of the other 60 tournaments held on Long Island have been going on for 37 years, The Greens at Half Hollow, a relative newcomer, now rates fourth in terms of the amount of money raised, she said.

In 2004, the first year for The Greens tournament, the event grossed a little more than $2,000.

The next year the figure jumped to $42,000, then to $66,000 the following year. In 2007, the amount skyrocketed to $102,000 and, last year, $123,000 was raised.

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Only three other tournaments -- all held at private Gold Coast country clubs - raise more. 

The Greens is a top fundraiser
"They are up there with the wealthiest clubs on Long Island" in the amount of money raised, Silbert added.

The Greens event chairwoman, Elayne Fastenberg, 66, said that despite the current economy and the canceled outdoor events, she expects to raise about $110,000 this year.

Much of it comes from small donations -- as little as $10 or $25. For the tournament, close to 300 participants paid a $75 fee to play golf, tennis, bridge, canasta or mah-jongg.

On July 16, 85 men who live at The Greens played golf to raise money for prostate cancer research.

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How does The Greens do it every year?
"We find ways to raise money by using the talent we have in our communities," Fastenberg said as she walked through The Greens clubhouse, set for the tournament luncheon. Pink table cloths and pink helium balloons decorated the large room.

Residents had spent days hand-making a pink begonia centerpiece for each table, and covering "silent auction" prizes in donated wrapping paper.

"I try to get the whole community involved and not just the golfers," Fastenberg added. The rain also shut down tennis matches, but in a clubhouse room, 150 or so women were playing mah-jongg and cards.

Barbara Korman, 66, one of the mah-jongg players, said that she was participating because she knows many cancer survivors. "The outpouring of generosity is wonderful," she said of the tournament participants.

Cancer has struck friends, family members and fellow residents at The Greens.

Lynne Zeiter, 62, who was playing canasta, said she is a three-time cancer survivor and has been treated for breast and ovarian cancer. "I have the BRCA gene," which has been linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, Zeiter said.

The Greens also raises money for Camp Adventure, a weeklong sleep-away camp held in late August on Shelter Island for children with cancer and their siblings.

The Greens resident Iris Schaum, who gives her age as 65-plus, said that her 15-year-old granddaughter who has leukemia is looking forward to attending the camp again this year. "The only time she feels normal is when she is with other kids with cancer."

Fastenberg, whose mother-in-law died of breast cancer at age 58, said she wanted to save future generations from such a fate.

With education and research funded by tournaments and other fundraisers, Fastenberg believes a cure is possible.

"When I was a kid, polio was the scare of the century, and now most younger people don't even know what it is," she said. "I would love in my lifetime for someone to say, 'What's breast cancer or prostate cancer?'  "