What do a helicopter, golf balls and a $2,500 cash prize have in common?
They are part of the ninth annual helicopter ball drop, an innovative fundraiser for the First Tee Golf Center in Olympia.
On Saturday, about 2,500 golf balls will be dropped from a helicopter 300 feet above a green at the First Tee. The day will include a free clinic for adults starting at 1 p.m., with the ball drop scheduled for 3 p.m.
Raffle tickets cost $5 and are available at the Free Tee Golf Center on Yelm Highway and Spurgeon Creek Road.
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“This is our major fundraiser every year,” said Kevin Bishop, director for First Tee. “It’s been a great fundraiser.”
In addition to the cash prize, 40 merchandise prizes will also be given away, including a television, bicycle, dinners, car washes and rounds of golf. Contestants don’t have to be present to collect their prize. But if you are there, you get to choose your gift rather than having it assigned.
“You may be 70 and get a bike,” Bishop said. “But if you’re there, you get to pick.”
Each year Bishop spends about six hours putting raffle numbers on each golf ball.
Over the years, Bishop has figured out the right height to drop the golf balls. Too high and the golf balls spread too far. Too low and the golf balls barely spread at all and the 40th ball can be 2 feet from the hole. Bishop gives Brian Reynolds, the helicopter pilot, a test basket before dropping the numbered golf balls.
“It’s an awesome sight,” Bishop said.
There have been no repeat winners. There has been anything from zero to three golf balls landing in the cup.
“Someone will win $2,500 cash for the first ball that goes in the hole or the closest to the hole,” Bishop said.
Olympia’s First Tee is part of a nationwide program and has 225 kids ages 6 to 18 signed up. For $75, members get golf lessons from spring to fall and can have a bucket of range balls to hit every day. In addition to golf, the program provides instruction on life skills, communication and goal setting.