WASHINGTON -- For the criticisms it can get as an elitist sport, golf also raises a tremendous amount of money for charitable causes in the U.S. each year. According to a recent study, more than 143,000 charity golf events were held in America in 2011, raising a total of $3.9 billion.
One such tournament, which began that year, was a little different from the rest, though. Dubbed The World's Largest Golf Outing (WLGO) by its founder, Peter Hill, of Billy Casper Golf, the goal was twofold: Get as many people as possible together across the country on the same day to play golf, and find a way to help make a difference in the lives of others.
The organization decided to accomplish the latter half of that mission by donating proceeds to the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), the 501(c)3 whose mission is to help wounded service men and women reacclimate to civilian life as they return home.
Of course, for the WLGO to live up to its self-assigned name would require a massive, multi-time-zone effort across many states. Mark Wesolek, now a mid-Atlantic regional manager for Billy Casper, was a part of the initial efforts.
"The first couple of years, I was a general manager at a golf course," Wesolek explains. "We didn't know quite what to expect."
Part of the trepidation was due to the timing of the event. August, especially in areas such as the mid-Atlantic, can be stifling hot, and is often a slow golf period. On one hand, that opened up the risk of a flop. On the other, it gave Billy Casper an opportunity to create a singular event that stood out in the golf world.
"August is kind of the dog days of summer," says Wesolek. "People are kind of slowing down or they're on vacation, so we needed something to get some excitement at the golf course."
The gamble worked.
The WLGO has grown exponentially since its 2011 inception, when the event raised $40,000. Last year, the tournament featured more than 10,000 players at 110 courses in 21 states and brought in $725,000 for WWP. This year, with more than 120 courses across 26 states participating, Billy Casper hopes to raise more than $1 million.
A contingent of Wounded Warriors play in the WLGO each year: Three years ago, that number was in the 50s and has since risen into the 70s. This year, Billy Casper Golf has made a concerted effort to try to bring more of them into the fold of the day itself, not just as beneficiaries but as active participants.
"We've reached out to Wounded Warriors chapters from across the country this year," Wesolek says of the outreach. "And of course, the Warriors play for free."
One might think of a charity golf tournament as a light-hearted escape, but the WWP connection gives the WLGO a greater sense of purpose.
"It goes a lot deeper than just the money that's raised," says Wesolek. "It gets very emotional. There's a lot of laughter, a lot of tears. It's a very cool thing to be a part of. I've never really been involved in an event like that."
This year's WLGO will be held Aug. 11. If you'd like to play, you can register as a single, twosome or foursome on the event's website. The tournament is a scramble-style format and registration includes greens fees, a shared cart, warm-up bucket, lunch, WLGO hat, golf ball and bag tag. In addition, a $10 donation will go to the Wounded Warrior Project for every player registered.
If you'd like to simply donate to the event -- say, to the WTOP for Wounded Warriors team -- you can contribute in a number of different ways. You can pledge any amount you want in support of an individual team or your home course.
Participating D.C.-area courses include nine Virginia locations:
- 1757 Golf Club (Dulles)
- Broad Run Golf & Practice Facility (Bristow)
- Forest Greens (Triangle)
- General's Ridge (Manassas Park)
- Heritage Hunt Golf & Country Club (Gainesville)
- Lake Ridge (Woodbridge)
- Prince William (Nokesville)
- Reston National (Reston)
- Virginia Oaks (Gainesville)
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