Teeing Off for the Troops

Teeing Off for the Troops

Operation Pinecone holds golf tournament fund-raiser.

Four men stood at the tee of the South Riding Golf Club's fifth hole Saturday afternoon, as the sun peeked through the clouds for the first time that day.

In front of the men was a lake, with the green and hole on the other side. According to the rules of captain's scramble, the four men must choose the best first drive to play off of.

"So what happens if we all end up in the lake?" one of them asked.

"Guess you're going wading," another joked.

SPECIALIST JASON HORD, Specialist Joseph Schaeffel, Specialist Alex Buition and Staff Sgt. John Bryant were four of the 12 troops and 44 golfers that took part in the first Operation Pinecone Golf Tournament, Saturday, April 15.

The tournament was set up by Operation Pinecone founder Mary Hacker to help fund the work of the nonprofit organization, which assembles care packages for troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While most care packages for the troops are sent out throughout the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, Operation Pinecone is busy year round, trying to send something to the troops in the almost 15 troops they supply.

"Word is spreading and we're getting more and more volunteers," Hacker said before the tournament.

With more volunteers and larger donations, the cost of sending packages to the troops is also on the rise, prompting Hacker to organize her first major fund-raiser.

"All of the money we raise will go towards our postage," she said.

In all, Sunday's tournament took in almost $10,000, including money from golfers' fees, business sponsors and raffle ticket sales. Hacker estimated that Operation Pinecone raised around $5,000 for the care package postage.

"That's absolutely fantastic," Hacker said. "I was thinking maybe $3,000, $3,500 if we were lucky. That's just fantastic."

HACKER WAS PLEASED with the turnout and the support the event received in the community.

"Considering it was our first tournament and none of [the organizers] are golfers, I think it went well," she said. "It took a lot of pounding the pavement, but we ended up with a lot of community and business support."

Dave Belz, retired Coast Guard member and an employee at the BAE Systems in Herndon, brought 10 other retired Coast Guard members and 10 of his co-workers to take part in the tournament.

"This is a great cause," he said. "We have one guy who came from Delaware and two from Maryland. Hopefully it'll build up and can keep it going."

Leesburg resident Albert Sabol said he believed things were only going to get better for the tournament and Operation Pinecone after Sunday's event.

"It's a great thing," he said. "If they keep this going you'll see 100, 150 guys out here to play."

IN ADDITION, to the paying golfers, the South Riding Golf Club helped bring 12 wounded servicemen from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda to play for free.

Among the servicemen were Hord, Schaeffel, Buition and Bryant, all of whom have been at Walter Reed for the past several months. While the foursome did make it across the lake at the fifth hole without having to fish for their balls, the three did finish last in Saturday's tournament and earned the booby prize.

"It turned out to be a great thing though," Hacker said. "The booby prize was a one-hour group golf lesson with a PGA tour golf pro. They loved it."