Above the Indian Spring Country Club in Silver Spring, Md., the rain and low ceiling cleared from overcast to broken, and then the cold mist lingered. A wet field of 256 golfers in the Greater Washington Aviation Open (GWAO) climbed to carts to await tournament director Paul “Bo” Bollinger’s signal for a shotgun start. Bollinger, whose regular job is with the Air Traffic Control Association, advised golfers to have fun, but swing clear. “Don’t hit the drink carts,” Bollinger reminded.
Since 1989, the GWAO has raised $735,000 to benefit the Corporate Angel Network (CAN), becoming its largest contributor. On May 3, the GWAO lofted another $111,000, more than a quarter of CAN’s operating budget. Last year, CAN used such funds to help arrange 2,000 flights for cancer patients on business aircraft, bringing its total since founding to some 21,000.
“We had a great evening to offset the damp and cool day,” said Bollinger. “At the conclusion of the auction, Jim May, president of the Air Transport Association, did the honor of signing the six-foot check. It was presented to CAN officers by the GWAO board.” CAN chairman Randy Greene and executive director Bonnie LeVarr accepted the record gift.
“If you ever get the chance to visit CAN’s offices at Westchester County Airport, it is not difficult to understand the hope and inspiration that CAN brings to those suffering from cancer,” wrote GWAO’s tournament committee, whose business aviation members include NBAA’s Pete West and Signature Flight Support’s Mary Miller. “Patients and their families who have traveled on CAN flights bring a tear to your eye and true joy to your heart.”
Players claimed prizes in categories ranging from longest drive to best-dressed team, and even for the last-place finish (name withheld to protect the innocent). Patner Construction won the golf flag and Chris Beausoleil of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority trumped the tennis volley. Yet the true purpose of GWAO is charity, networking and a solid chance to tee off with colleagues, customers, Congressmen and constituents.
Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich, an avid golfer, was invited as honorary chairman but could not attend due to a family medical emergency. Still, members from a dozen congressional offices swung clubs, as did government affairs staff of AOPA, GAMA, NATA and NBAA, alongside elected officials of Washington-area airports.
Bizav Hits the Links
Flight companies such as Dulles-based Independence Air, NetJets and PrivatAir, and manufacturers from Cessna Aircraft to Embraer, worked the back nine and bottom line, raking traps as necessary. Raytheon Co. government affairs executives Chris Lombardi, Scott Plecs and Gordy Schnable bunkered along with Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), whose 4th District includes Wichita.
A day of golf, including the barbecue lunch, musical reception and elegant banquet of filet mignon and Maryland crab cake, cost $500 per person. Sponsors carted the rest, from entertainment to refreshments, though individual players could take it from there in the name of charity.
For example, each member of a foursome could buy a mulligan for ten bucks, meaning that one bad stroke of the player’s choosing is erased from memory. Few golfers cashed in a mulligan; then again, none met the hole-in-one contest, either–a stroke good for a 2003 Jaguar XK8. A raffle for $2,000 in cash prizes plus long tables of merchandise, via silent auction, captured “auction packages and flights of fancy,” raising the total donated to CAN.
Patrick Sullivan, Cessna Aircraft director of government and special mission sales, explained that few in his office play golf, shattering the notion of big-iron deals closing with short irons. Last year, Sullivan won his bid for tickets on Austrian Airlines.
“We challenge everyone to think outside the box when it comes to creatively making your participation known and appreciated at the GWAO,” wrote organizers. Boeing, a returning sponsor, provided every player with an embroidered, microfiber golf jacket. Signature Flight Support managed its golf-bag drop with flight line precision.
“The 16th annual Greater Washington Aviation Open is a celebration of all that is good in the aviation industry,” summarized the GWAO committee. “Everything about our industry has been turned upside down and shaken. We are very fortunate that [our support] continues to be strong in spite of the economic hardships aviation is experiencing.”