At noon on July 17, a helicopter will carefully maneuver among multiple transmission lines that crisscross the driving range, hover 60 feet high, and drop up to 1,000 colorful golf balls toward 13 tiny holes that Vince Alfonso will have dug.
A lot of people will be watching at the venerable Family Golf & Games, some for the show and others the dough.
What could go possibly wrong in this Inaugural MAM Helicopter Ball Drop, a fundraiser for Memphis for Memphis Athletic Ministries (MAM)?
Which is why Alfonso has invented his own ingenious target for a helicopter drop, measured the distance between power lines for the pilot, calibrated the hole sizes and depths, and even conducted a trial ball drop from 60 feet using a construction crane.
“How weird would it be if we do all this and get community support, we get the helicopter, and only one ball goes in one hole?” Alfonso asked rhetorically. He’s done all he can to ensure that won’t happen.
Those balls – each numbered and registered to its buyer – could be worth a lot of money.
The ball settling into hole labeled No. 1 means 10 percent of the total purse goes to its owner. The ball falling into No. 2 means 5 percent to its owner, and so on.
No matter how many $100 balls Memphis Athletic Ministries sells, it will keep 80 percent of the purse to further its mission.
If the maximum 1,000 balls are sold, MAM would keep $80,000 of the $100,000 raised. The other $20,000 would be split among the nine winners.
When pandemics don’t affect life, MAM supports more than 1,800 inner-city children a year, placing 389 children on its sports teams, hosting 400 children who each attended at least 10 Bible studies, and helping 450 students with math and reading.
The nonprofit typically doesn’t conduct such fundraisers. Normally, it relies on individuals, churches, foundations and grants.
But the pandemic hurt funding, so Alfonso proposed as a “shot in the arm” the helicopter ball-drop idea that’s been percolating in his mind for years.
Using helicopter ball drops for fundraisers is not new, he said, but the target he invented is.
Typically, ball drops might use existing golf holes at a golf course.
The possible complications from that could keep Alfonso up at night. Normal-size golf holes are large enough to hold several golf balls, so the event organizer would have to identify the bottom, or first, ball that dropped in.
Other ball drops identify the closet ball to a hole or other target as the winner. “Hey, I don’t want to have somebody holding the measuring tape and saying ‘This is one eighth of an inch closer so it wins 10 grand.’ That’s too hard.”
Instead, Alfonso has innovated what he describes as a “fool-proof” target. “Nobody will have any qualms about how this works,” he said.
Among the steps he’s taken, Alfonso:
- Enlisted as the host site the longtime supporter of MAM, Golf and Games Family Park and its golf driving range at 5484 Summer;
- Hired FairLifts helicopter service of Kennesaw, Ga., to provide the helicopter;
- To ensure the helicopter’s safety, measured the distance between multiple transmission lines crossing the range and determined there is an adequate 279 yards of clear space. But the lines are not parallel, so his next step is to calculate the precise spot that provides the most elbow room for the aircraft.
- Arranged for a tractor with a box blade to sculpt a 100-foot-diameter circle at the drop spot. The circle will be conical, so that the sides slope down. The slopes will ensure most if not all the dropped balls roll toward the 13 holes;
- Planned the bottom of the target circle to have a flat, 20-by-20-foot foot bottom;
- Obtained a 20-by-20-foot piece of indoor/outdoor carpet and nails to anchor it onto the ground;
- Cut 13 holes into the carpet, each 2 inches in diameter;
- Made 13 PVC pipe liners for the holes, each 2 inches deep. The hole size assures only room enough for one ball;
- Sharpened the top edges of the PVC to better ensure any ball touching the edge will fall into the hole;
- Decided to add those four extra holes, 10-13, as insurance in case any of holes 1-9 is not filled with a ball. So if hole No. 7, say, remains empty after the drop, then the balls in holes 8, 9 and 10 become 7, 8 and 9 in the hierarchy of the cash prizes;
- Arranged to rake away from the target areas the vast majority of balls that don’t initially fall into a hole. If any holes remained empty, one of the raked balls will like fall into them as they are moved;
- Beefed up transparency by planning to video the entire process;
- And two weeks ago conducted a ball-drop trial run by using a crane at Barnhart Crane & Rigging in the Memphis Defense Depot.
All the meticulous planning has everything to do with establishing credibility. As Alfonso noted, this is the “inaugural” helicopter ball drop, meaning he anticipates organizing more for years to come.
“Everybody will know how much money is raised instantly. They know the percentage for their prize if they win. It’s all published. “There cannot be but one ball in a hole and no way we’ll end up with anything negative,” he said.
Asked if it wouldn’t have been easier to use a crane for the ball drop instead of a helicopter, Alfonso replied:
“If you had two things you wanted to go see happen, would you rather see something pouring down from a helicopter or somebody dropping something from an affixed crane?
“I think you’d agree that a helicopter is more dramatic.”
For more information and to register for a golf ball, visit mamsports.org/helicopter
In a related event, participants can pay $220 each to compete in a four-person scramble-style golf tournament using Golf and Games Family Park’s hitting bays and Toptracer technology.
Scramble participants also will receive a registered ball for the ball drop, food and nonalcoholic drinks, and a voucher to play 18 holes with a cart at Kirkwood National Golf Club & Cottages. Kirkwood is another sponsor of MAM.
Memphis Athletic Ministries has taken extraordinary steps to ensure its first Helicopter Ball Drop fundraiser goes smoothly and credibly.