If you’re looking for a fun winter weekend getaway, pack up some sporting gear and head to the Northwoods of Price County. With its thick forests, beautiful lakes, and miles of groomed trails, Price County offers every kind of winter recreation imaginable—snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, and golf. Wait a minute, golf?
Yes, you read that right. The folks in the county seat of Phillips don’t let a little obstacle like winter get in the way of a round of golf, especially when it’s for a good cause. The annual Chili Golf Open is the major fundraiser for Flambeau Home Health and Hospice. The combination golf game/chili cook-off is a long-standing event on the county calendar, marking its 18th year on Saturday, February 3.
“We hold this regardless of the weather,” said Beth Hahn, financial manager and director of Home Health and Hospice. “We’ve had days when it’s been 40 degrees and the sun is shining, and we’ve had days when it’s 25 below. On the 25-below days, we might have more people show up just for the chili. But there’s always a faction of people who golf, no matter what.”
Clearly, this is not your typical golf outing. Participants play a full nine holes and they use real golf clubs, but that’s about all this golf game has in common with its summertime counterpart.
The Chili Golf Open is played on the frozen surface of Long Lake at the Harbor View Pub & Eatery in Phillips. Hahn’s husband, Pete, also known for this occasion as “Jacques Frost,” designs the course each year. He plows a fairway on the lake with a four-wheeler or tractor—whichever the snow and ice levels of the year require. He drills holes with an ice auger and places spheres of concrete with openings in the center over the holes in the ice, with cups settled into the openings. These concrete spheres are drilled just far enough into the surface to make them level with the ice.
As a final touch, the “greens” are sprayed with food coloring that’s been approved by the DNR as safe for the lake. They’re also marked with signs indicating the various local business sponsors, including Price Electric Cooperative.
To play on this rather unusual course, golfers may bring their own golf clubs or use a donated club made available at Harbor View. “Golf” balls—actually bright yellow tennis balls that can be more easily found if they should happen to land in the surrounding snow traps—are provided. Obviously, this unusual version of golf requires some unusual attire. The greens are plowed down, but the fairways are piles of often-deep snow.
“We’ve had people golf in cross country skis, snowshoes, or just in their heavy boots,” Hahn said.
The variety doesn’t end with the footwear. A highlight of this event is the Outrageous Dress Contest, for which golfers show up in some unusual and creative costumes.
For Fun and Food
Most participants golf strictly for fun, but some play to win. The event includes a “Corporate Challenge,” for which corporate teams golf for the right to claim a coveted traveling trophy for the year.
Other participants come simply to partake in some homemade chili and watch the antics on the ice from the Harbor View’s big patio doors to the deck overlooking the lake.
The chili cook-off is open to any businesses or individuals who want to donate a slow cooker of chili in one of two categories—traditional, which is usually prepared with a red sauce and some kind of meat, and non-traditional, which includes vegetarian or white chili varieties. A panel of 12 local chili judges, which is typically made up of elected officials and other community leaders, samples the chili entries and decides on the winners.
For a chili lover, serving as judge is an enviable job, but fortunately for all participants, the judges are not the only ones who get to taste the food. After the contest is finished, the cook-off turns into a festive pot-luck dinner of sorts, with each paid participant treated to a bowl of chili.
“We usually have 20 to 25 Crock-Pots of chili,” Hahn said. “After the judging people get a free bowl of chili for lunch, and they can buy an extra bowl if they want to.”
All for the Cause
In addition to the chili cook-off, the Chili Golf Open features an afternoon live auction of items donated by local businesses.
Soliciting donations, Hahn said, is not a difficult job. While some people may come to this event primarily to play golf, and others mostly to sample chili, all come to support Flambeau Home Health and Hospice. That includes the businesses that sponsor golf holes or donate items for the auction; Hahn said such support is freely and generously given by the local business community.
In addition, each year the crowd includes some new faces, many of them people who have been touched by hospice care during the previous year. Their presence means the deep meaning of the day is never lost in the silly fun.
“We kind of have our group of followers who come because they’re supportive of hospice, but in different years we’ve had families that had someone in hospice so they show up to golf to help us out, as a way of saying thanks,” Hahn said. “So it’s a very heartwarming fundraiser.”
It’s also just a lot of fun, whether you come to play golf, eat chili, or simply enjoy a crisp winter day in the Northwoods.—Mary Erickson
The 18th Annual Chili Golf Open will be held Saturday, February 3, at Harbor View Pub & Eatery, 1094 N. Lake Avenue, Highway 13 N., Phillips, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. To learn more, call 715-339-4371 or visit http://co.price.wi.us.