The best thing about driving orange golf balls through the snow and icy winds in the middle of winter is that it’s all for charity

Chili Open Blizzard
Tough Chili Open golfers are willing to brave harsh—but fun—conditions to help people in need.

By Ken McEntee

Nothing against Webb Simpson and Tony Finau, but, c’mon.

Phoenix? Sixty-six degrees? Dry, pleasant air and a meticulously manicured course? For a $1.4 million top prize?

Gimme a break.

Kinda makes you wonder how pampered pros like Webb and Tony would stand up against the harsh winter conditions at the nine-hole Nanook’s Nightmare: Face-pounding gusts of wind on the fairway, teeing off with frozen feet buried in snow and bouncing putts over an icy film atop greens of crinkly synthetic turf.

Perhaps not as well as the rugged locals who brave the elements every year to enjoy exhilarating winter play at the Chili Open Charity Golf Classic. The 29th Annual Chili Open, presented by Kaulig Companies, the title sponsor, and hosted by the Rotary Club of Strongsville, will be held on Saturday, February 29, from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds, in Berea.

Mimi Magazine also is among the event’s sponsors.

The Chili Open is fun. It’s invigorating. It may even be insane.

But the best thing about driving orange golf balls through the snow and icy winds in the middle of winter is that it’s all for charity.

During its first 28 years, the Rotary Club of Strongsville’s Chili Open Golf Classic has netted more than $2 million for Northeast Ohio charities and Rotary service projects. Proceeds from this year’s event will benefit eight carefully selected charities that are involved with helping children and adults in need.

The Chili Open is a Northeast Ohio winter tradition, giving winter golfers the opportunity to swing through the rudimentary Nanook’s Nightmare and Frozen Buns courses at the fairgrounds before thawing out inside with all the hot food, refreshing beer and soft drinks you can consume.

Frigid winter golf is fun, but you don’t have to hit the links to have a blast at the Chili Open. In fact, some people attend primarily for the high-energy celebrity auction featuring the extraordinary auctioneer Bob Hale, of Benefit Auction Service. The Chili Open, Bob insists, is the “Best-kept secret in Northeast Ohio. It is truly a great event.”

Each year some of Northeast Ohio’s most beloved and recognizable personalities help to auction off thousands of dollars worth of sports gear and memorabilia, vacations, unique collectables and many other items. Last year, Bob was assisted by such notables as Mike Snyder, Brad Sussman and Munch Bishop, of WTAM; Jimmy Malone, of WMJI; former Cleveland Brown linebacker Judge Dick Ambrose; Jenn Harcher, of Fox8; and Bruce Drennen, of Sports Time Ohio.

Media personalities Bruce Drennen (left) and Bud Shaw were among the Chili Open celebrity auctioneers last year.

“The auction is full of items that cannot just be purchased or found elsewhere,” insists Rotarian Brad Nudell, Chili Open auction chair. “There are unique experiences and items that are one-of-a-kind, with many items focused on the Browns, Cavs and Indians, as well as packages involving all the best golf courses in the area.”

Along with the auction, a raffle drawing will feature a Cleveland Indians dugout loge for 10, including parking and food; a 55-inch flat screen from Costco of Strongsville; and a $350 Walmart gift card. To get your raffle tickets, track down any of the 120 Strongsville Rotarians. You also can play the eagerly anticipated heads or tails game for a wheelbarrow full of adult beverages.

In celebration of the 29th Annual Chili Open, being played on a rare February 29th, a discounted Early Bird registration will be available for $29 for a limited time at ChiliOpen.com. The Rotary Club of Strongsville, under its motto of “Service Above Self,” takes on a large number of ongoing local community projects and initiatives, as well as international humanitarian projects throughout the year.

For more information, or to register for the discounted price of $29, visit ChiliOpen.com or Facebook: @ChiliOpen.