Over 200,000 Golf Balls to be Sent to Troops in Middle East

Organizers of a drive to collect golf balls for Arizona soldiers stationed abroad hoped to deliver their version of a "White Christmas" to the deserts of Afghanistan and Iraq this holiday season.

Little did they know they would start an avalanche of goodwill. Operation White Christmas, launched August 31 by Troon Golf, along with the Greater Phoenix Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Valley Hotel & Resort Association and Kierland Golf Club at The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa, has collected more than 200,000 golf balls to send to Arizona soldiers serving in the Middle East.

Hitting golf balls is a favorite recreational pastime of many military men and women stationed overseas, and some bases in the Middle East have makeshift driving ranges. But golf balls aren't easy to come by, so the organizers of Operation White Christmas spread the word to area resorts and pro shops and set up special donation receptacles at the Visitor Information Center at Biltmore Fashion Park and Kierland Golf Club. Kierland Golf Club collected more than 80,000 balls, including 50,000 from Buy the Balls, one of club's biggest vendors. Troon Golf, which manages Kierland and 12 other courses in Arizona, donated more than 30,000 balls. The public donated more than 10,000 balls at the visitors' center. The Greater Phoenix CVB even received a box of 300 balls from a donor in Illinois.

The city of Phoenix put the capper on the drive Tuesday when Mayor Phil Gordon announced that more than 65,000 golf balls and 14,000 golf clubs had been collected for the cause at Phoenix's municipal courses. "I want to thank the people of Phoenix for their generous support of this program and of our troops," Mayor Gordon said. "This special shipment will brighten the days, and lift the spirits, of so many men and women who dedicate themselves to protecting freedom around the world. This community is grateful for their sacrifices and wishes them a safe and peaceful holiday season."

In addition to the golf balls generated by Operation White Christmas, over 16,000 clubs were donated by local golfers and organizations who, without being asked, responded to concerns that many soldiers might not have access to a set. That figure included a donation of 200 brand-new drivers from PING, whose corporate headquarters are in Phoenix.

"It's obvious that, regardless of each individual's view of the war, residents of Arizona have a big place in their hearts for of our troops, and we are proud to be part of that," said Bruce Lange, general manager of the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa and chair of VH&RA.

The City of Phoenix's huge haul - the collection and transport of which required three flat-bed trucks, a backhoe loader and a dozen city employees - boosted the total beyond 185,000, and a last-minute donation of 18,000 balls by a club in Glendale, Ariz., pushed the final tally past 200,000.

"In my wildest dreams, I didn't expect this kind of response," said Steve Moore, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix CVB. "I think when we sent out the first press release announcing Operation White Christmas, we said our goal was to deliver 'hundreds' of balls to the troops. But two hundred thousand? That just speaks to how much this community cares about making life a little more enjoyable for soldiers stationed far away from their families this holiday season."

Packages from Home and Proud Patriots, a pair of nonprofit groups dedicated to delivering mail, care packages and recreational goods to American troops stationed abroad, will ship the golf balls to Iraq and Afghanistan. Those groups also assisted with the collection and storage of the donations, as did Anne and Ron Weinstock, a Phoenix couple who have been collecting golf balls and clubs for U.S. soldiers for several years. The Weinstocks' garage and backyard are currently serving as a crowded way station for the golf equipment bound for the Middle East.

"It was a pleasure to give back to those Arizona troops stationed in the Middle East who have given up so much to serve our country," said Brett Brooks, manager of Marketing Communications for Troon Golf. "We hope these donations will provide some well-deserved fun for our troops and make for a special holiday season."