The more than 60 people who gathered in the South Hills Saturday came together raise money and collect food for Helena Food Share in a somewhat unconventional fashion: by playing disc golf.
Members of the Sleeping Giant Disc Golf Alliance and avid disc golfers came together to participate in the seventh annual Memorial Kelly Hatcher Ice Bowl disc golf tournament.
The Ice Bowl disc golf charity tournaments were started in Kansas City in 1987 by Rick Rothstein and his friends as a way to have fun and raise money for local charities. Today, Ice Bowl tournaments and are held in dozens of cities across the country – and around the world – each year between Jan. 1 and the last day of February.
In Helena, the tournament has benefitted numerous local charities over the years including Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, the Lewis and Clark County Humane Society and the Willis Cruse House.
Event organizer, Jason Schmidt, said that, last year, the club collected over $2,000 and 100 pounds of food for Helena Food Share.
“We’ve given over $11,000 in charitable donations, in cash, right here in the city,” he said.
As the sport of disc golf grows in popularity, he said, participation in the annual tournament increases simultaneously. Saturday’s event featured 59 registered players in addition to numerous volunteers helping to organize.
“That’s our biggest turnout,” Schmidt said.
“It’s a really relaxed structure,” he said of the tournament. “It’s a day of disc golf solidarity.”
The warm, sunny weather had golfers shedding sweatshirts as they leisurely walked between holes at the mile-long, 30-acre course off Saddle Drive.
“It’s a fun pastime; it’s healthy and you get to see all these beautiful places,” said Matt Mangini, a 30-year-old Helenan who has played in multiple Ice Bowl tournaments over the years.
He said he enjoys the opportunity to play a sport he loves while also helping the community. As part of the tournament’s charitable goals, players are allowed to use mulligans as in standard golf, but each player must donate $5 for each mulligan he or she takes.
“For every five cans you bring for the Helena Food Share, you get one mulligan,” Mangini said. “You can only buy six per round; then you have to use food (donations to purchase more).”
Mangini and his three teammates, Mike Dunlap, Dan Hill and Lane Brubaker, had already donated a total of $120 — including registration and mulligan fees — to the event at the end of the first round.
Brubaker said “this beautiful sunshine, and helping out the food bank,” inspired him to participate Saturday.
“This tournament is so casual,” he said. “They’ll end up with a ton of cash and a ton food.”
Each group of four players completed two rounds of 18 holes — plus one extra to see who could get a disc closest to the metal-chained basket at the 19th hole — to compete for a wide variety of trophies and prizes. Entry fees ranged from $25 to $45 per person and, additionally, a stack of food donations was steadily growing at the tournament check-in area.
As he set up lunch for the participants — chili with all the fixings donated by Chili O’Brien’s — Schmidt said he was glad to see so much great support for both Food Share and the sport he is so passionate about.
“It’s a family, for sure,” Schmidt said. “You get close to the people you play with.
“You’re going to have a good time no matter who you’re with,” he said.