The weather recently has been anything but chilly for January standards. But as we all know, that can change in the (free) drop ... of a golf ball.
The 27th Chili Open Golf Classic will be taking place on Feb. 4 at Hale Farm & Village in Bath with a goal to raise $250,000. This winter tournament is an annual fundraiser for the Akron Rotary Camp in New Franklin, which brings the camp experience to children and adults with a wide range of special needs.
Presented by Wayne Homes, the Chili Open is a unique arctic golf experience because organizers actually hope for snow.
"If it’s really bad snow, it's even more fun," said Julie Brandle, co-chair of the Chili Open. She helps lead the planning and execution for the winter fundraiser.
Prizes will be awarded to those that get a hole-in-one or closest to the pin despite the - hopefully - cold conditions. With orange golf balls in hand, more than 500 golfers of all skill levels are expected to step onto the scenic tundra. Five separate courses - each made up of nine holes - will be constructed on Hale Farm & Village’s historic property. Distances from each hole will vary from 65 to 125 yards.
Long-time sponsor Whitey’s Booze ‘N Burgers will provide roughly 2,000 pounds of chili and fixings will be provided for hungry participants and those wishing to try the chili eating contest. Whitey’s owner Jon Bigadza really stepped up to the plate when Wendy’s could no longer sponsor the Chili Open.
Chili Open Committee Member Scott Stutler had been friends with Bigadza since their days on the Firestone High School swim team. When Stutler found himself without chili for the open, one phone call to Bigadza was all it took.
"He said, ‘Scott, I’m in.’ He does it from the goodness of his heart," Stutler said. "The whole staff (at Whitey’s) has been so supportive. We couldn’t do it without them. It cannot be matched."
Nearly 2000 people go to Akron Rotary Camp every year. Last year, the Chili Open raised $225,000 and more than 800 kids were able to go at no expense to them. Organizers are confident they will make this year’s goal as well.
Amanda Warner, the YMCA’s liaison for the Akron Rotary Camp, said the best part of the Chili Open is "seeing the people that come year after year. Everybody knows it’s for the kids."
Started in 1924 by the Rotary Club of Akron, the camp originally catered to mainly kids with polio or cerebral palsy. As medicine advanced, the camp widened its coverage to include those with physical and developmental disabilities, and mental health disorders. Alongside the traditional overnight sleepaway summer camp, Akron Rotary Camp also has day camp, schools out programs, siblings camp, adult weekend retreats and respite programs.
Today’s camp is managed by YMCA and offers a plethora of activities including dances, campfires, swimming, canoeing, arts and crafts, sports, and teambuilding games. The camp runs year-round and has activities for different seasons and holidays such as baking cookies and making ornaments.
To join the Chili Open, interested parties can buy a $50 golfer pass or a clubhouse pass. Passes include access to the warm clubhouse, a T-shirt, chili and drinks, and access to the signup-based chili-eating contest. The willing (and fearless) contestants will attempt to eat five pounds of chili the fastest. Last year’s record was set in less than two minutes.
The only difference in the golf and clubhouse passes is that the golfers are automatically put into a four-person queue for the tournament. Golfers can choose ahead of time to golf with their family or friends, or leave luck up to the draw. Participants can register online at chiliopen.net or at the door.
Those that can’t make it to the Chili Open, but still want to contribute can purchase raffle tickets online. Prizes include a 2017 Chevrolet Sonic, a 55-inch LG 4k Smart TV, four diamond box seats and behind-the-scenes tour for the Cleveland Indians, and a 2017 Bridgestone Invitational golf package. Those buying a bundle of six tickets are automatically entered for the Snowmania drawing for a chance to win $50,000.
Also available for purchase are $500 tax-deductible "camperships" or camper sponsorships. Each campership is the cost to send one child to camp for a week.
For more information, visit chiliopen.net.