The size of the field and the amount of money raised for charity has grown each year in the five-year history of Hamburg, N.Y. club’s 100-hole, walking golf marathon. This year’s participants included a 13-year-old.
Most avid golfers would love nothing more than to spend a day playing the game from sunup to sundown. Chip in a good cause—or two good causes, in the case of Wanakah Country Club in Hamburg, N.Y., just south of Buffalo—and the day gets even better.
Wanakah held a golf marathon, “The Walk for Luca & Carly,” on July 16 to raise money for Live Like Luca/The Luca S. Calanni Foundation, and the Courage of Carly Fund at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo. In the annual, all-day event, which Wanakah member Simon Bennett started in 2016 to support cancer research, golfers play 100 holes of golf on foot and collect pledges for the charities.
Bennett started the benefit as one of three Wanakah members who decided to walk 100 holes of golf in one day to raise money for Roswell Park. They brought in $7,500. “I was looking for an excuse to play golf all day and at raise money for a good cause in the local area,” he says. “And I thought, ‘If I’m doing this, I’m walking.’”
The Wanakah fundraiser, which has raised almost $200,000 in five years, has grown with each outing. “Our membership really gets behind it,” says Mike Karnath, CCM, Wanakah’s General Manager and Chief Operating Officer.
The proof is in the numbers. In 2017, four men raised more than $15,000, and in 2018 six men brought in $30,000. In 2019, the first year the fundraiser benefited Carly’s fund, 10 men raised $47,500.
This year, 16 people played in “The Walk for Luca & Carly.” Donors could give a single amount or pledge $1 for each birdie and $5 for every eagle. At least $92,000 was raised, and the proceeds will be split evenly between the two charities.
The mission of Live Like Luca is to create athletic and educational opportunities for children throughout western New York. The foundation was created in memory of Luca Calanni, the son of Wanakah members Ashley and Roger “Bodge” Calanni. Luca, who died unexpectedly in January 2020 at age 11 from complications of the flu, played basketball, soccer, lacrosse and golf.
“Luca was a great kid that everybody loved,” says Bennett. “He was full of life and full of energy.”
The Courage of Carly Fund at Roswell Park, named for the late Carly Collard Cottone of East Amherst, N.Y., provides memories, family events and financial support to children and teenagers diagnosed with cancer or blood disorders and their families. Carly, who lost both of her parents to cancer by the time she was 7 years old, was diagnosed with brain cancer at age 8 and died three years later. She founded Carly’s Club on her ninth birthday in 2000, and raised more than $185,000 for pediatric cancer research in her short lifetime. Her family was not affiliated with Wanakah CC.
At this year’s fundraiser, which was reduced to 69 holes because of inclement weather, the golfers carded 163 birdies and three eagles. After teeing off at 5:15 a.m., the players withstood interruptions from tornado warnings, torrential downpours, and flooding. They retreated from the golf course about 4 p.m., after lightning flashed across the sky.
In addition to Bennett, the field included Luca’s father, who had committed to play last fall; Luca’s 13-year-old friend, Jack Tebeau; and local sports-radio personality Jeremy White, who helped to publicize the event and serves on the Live Like Luca Board of Directors.
“It has grown. People have shown interest,” Karnath says of the event. “It’s a lot to walk and be able to physically endure this.”
The fundraiser has no strict rules, but Bennett has expanded it slowly. “Initially, we didn’t know how successful it would be,” he says. “We didn’t want to take up the entire golf course. It has grown naturally as people have asked me if they can play.”
The golfers played in foursomes, and collectively had 40 to 50 caddies on their bags throughout the day. Between the weather and COVID-19, however, Wanakah, which will hold another fundraiser for Live Like Luca in September, had to make a few changes to this year’s outing. “The event normally takes place on the summer solstice in June, but we had to delay it this year because of the pandemic,” says Karnath.
In past years more than 150 people have come to the fundraiser, but the club couldn’t have a gathering of more than 50 this year. Courtesy of COVID-19, only one bag per cart was allowed, and the weather disrupted plans for all 16 golfers to play a par-3 together on the 100th hole.
“For me, it’s my favorite golf day of the year,” says Bennett. “We’re raising money for great causes, and everybody wants everyone else to play as well as they can. It’s a relaxing day with a lot of camaraderie.”