RANCHO SANTA FE — Golfers who have historically lacked the skill or luck to hit a hole-in-one can increase their odds during the fourth annual Operation Game On 15-Inch Cup Challenge, which will be held from noon to 3 p.m. March 5 at Fairbanks Ranch Country Club, 15150 San Dieguito Road.
Although the likelihood of sinking a shot on the first swing is minimal, the probability improves when aiming for a cup nearly four times larger than the traditional hole.
The cost for that opportunity is $150 for 20 golf balls, which participants will try to hit into 15-inch cups either 50, 75, 100 or 125 yards away to win $150, $250, $500 or $1,000, respectively.
Last year 12 golfers out of nearly 200 earned bragging rights. Two winners hit the 50-yard mark, seven made it from 75 yards away and three sunk a hole-in-one 100 yards out.
The payouts would have totaled $3,550 but $2,100 was donated back to Operation Game On.
Founder Tony Perez said he raised about $40,500 from entry fees, sponsors, extra golf balls, spectators and a silent auction.
Since 2008, Operation Game On has provided free golf lessons and equipment for physically and psychologically injured troops, most of them undergoing treatment at Naval Medical Center San Diego and Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton.
Experts have found golf is an essential link to the rehabilitation process for combat-wounded military personnel.
The program has been expanded to include sessions for military spouses and Vietnam War veterans. An all-female class was added a few years ago.
“It seems like a never-ending stream of injured veterans living in Orange, Riverside and San Diego counties are attending our lessons,” Perez said. “I am proud to say that we have saved quite a few lives.”
“It’s a great experience,” said Marine Corps veteran Abraham Perez, who completed the program last May. “You take something you weren’t able to do and Tony has the tool set to make it happen and I appreciate that.
“I can just get away if I’m stressed out,” he added. “I go to the range and spend $20 to hit a bucket of balls and it gets your mind out of it.”
“This has become part of my therapy,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Jake Keeslar, who remained active duty for five years after losing both legs from an IED explosion in Iraq.
The 15-Inch Cup Challenge also features a silent auction, a corporate village, live music and unlimited food and drinks that include a bloody mary bar, craft beer, pizza and tacos.
Perez said the idea for the 15-inch challenge came from his longtime friend, Mike Spacciapolli of First Citizens Bank.
“I thought we ought to be able to do something fun with that,” Spacciapolli said. “Golf is supposed to be fun, right?”
Sponsorship opportunities are still available. Visit www.OperationGameOn.org for more information.