Playing for Life takes swing at curing cancer with Park City golf race
Golf is not typically rowdy, harried or slapdash, but Swinging for Life — The Race, a fundraiser that contributes to breast cancer research, prevention and recovery, is not a typical golfing event.
It is wilder, boozier, and a lot faster. It also gets participants excited for the gala, hosted by Playing for Life, which hosts the swing race, held the following night at the Riverhorse on Main.
On Wednesday, 14 teams of four lined up near the tee boxes of Holes 11 and 13 at the Park City Municipal Golf Course. Dressed in crisp polos, visors, slacks or skirts, the golfers sipped mixed drinks provided free from the open air bars.
In the Swing Race, each team would play four holes (two rounds on Holes 11 and 13) as fast as they could, with all team members required to stay behind the person hitting, and rotating out each shot. The team with the lowest combined time for the four holes wins.
Andy Facey, a three-time race veteran, described the overall strategy as “hit it and go,” though there is some nuance to the competition.
For example, his wife, Hallie, said most of the technique was in the “go” portion of that equation.
“You never stop the (golf) cart, is the goal,” she said. “You keep going slowly, so you never lose the momentum.”
Brett LaBar, who was part of last year’s winning team, advises driving the ball straight down the fairway with a 4 iron or 3 wood club. Then, while someone is lining up a shot, the next two golfers start driving their cart into position and punch the accelerator just before the golfer swings, so the cart passes the golfer just as the ball is taking flight, whisking the next golfer to the ball. Because carts are not allowed on the greens, there is also a brief sprint at the end of each hole to accelerate the putting process.
“You literally jump out of your cart running with the cart still moving and you’re all sprinting to the green,” LaBar said.
Volunteers, coordinated by Park City Golf Course staff and Playing For Life’s director, Cynthia Brown, would record the times and tell teams when to start.
Standing at the end of Hole 13, Brown watched the first teams come in. They were, in her opinion, a little nervous. Some shanked balls wide from the tee box, or didn’t have an efficient method for moving quickly through each hit. LaBar’s team was among them.
“The first hole was a little rough,” he said after the first two holes, standing back by one of the bars.
“My buddy hit it right down the middle, I shanked it left onto the other tee box, and then we chipped it on and got it in,” LaBar said. “(The second hole), I had a perfect drive, we shanked the second, then my wife chipped it right next to the pin and we tapped it in.”
He estimated their attempt had landed them in the middle of the pack.
“But second hole we made up for the first one,” he said.
By then, some groups knew they were out of contention, and had turned their efforts to enjoying the company of their team.
A four-woman team representing Image Reborn, a nonprofit that provides retreats to women diagnosed with breast cancer, stood near their carts, beverages in hand, joking with each other.
When asked how the team was doing, Janelle Smith, one of the nonprofit’s board members, considered how to answer.
“Well, we shaved two minutes off of our first hole, if that tells you anything,” she said.
Her teammate, Cappey Jones, said it was the team’s first time at the tournament.
Some of the team’s aspirations for the day included “more alcohol,” “to not drive the cart where we’re not supposed to drive golf carts,” and “to hit the ball toward the goal.”
“We’re here for a loving experience,” Jones explained.
Over the third and fourth holes of the tournament, the Image Reborn team had a combined time of 5:26, and a total combined time of 10:38, which, to their credit, was not last in their group.
LaBar’s team also had mixed results.
On the third hole, his team drove a ball down the middle of Hole 13, then chipped it short of the green, put two golf balls into the water feature, then two-putted it home.
“So we beat our first time by 30, 40 seconds,” LaBar said.
On the last hole, Hole 11 again, his team started by teeing off into a tree. Then, while attempting to clear it away from the tree, the team sliced it through a group of trees onto Hole 13’s fairway. LaBar chipped it back onto Hole 11’s green, where the team putted it in for a time of 1:51 and a combined time of 7:47, fourth in the group of seven.
A group of players with the last names of Cunningham, Bird and Mitchell, who dressed in non-matching golf attire, advanced from LaBar’s group to the finals with a time of 6:34, while Andrew Collings, Jo-Ann Goldman, Sue Slavicek and Ilana Baltuch, who all wore pink polo shirts, advanced from the other group with a time of 4:51.
The Cunninghams, Bird and Mitchell went first in the finals on Hole 13, finishing with a time of 1:19.
Then Slavicek teed off for her team, driving the ball down the fairway to just before the water feature. The carts took off, with Slavicek jumping into the moving vehicle, which followed Collins and Goldman in front. Collins stood up out the passenger side of the front cart, leaning out to spot the ball. He jumped out, ran to it and chipped onto the green then took off sprinting after it alongside the carts. Baltuch drove the cart as far as she was allowed to go before leaping out while it was still rolling. She putted close to the hole, then Goldman finished it with a short put.
The official timer at the start of Hole 13, Pam Rapplean, watched Goldman drain the final shot, then took their time – 1:09.
“Looks like the pink team won,” she said.
Over the Swing Race, the gala and another golf event, Playing for Life raised more than $120,000.