People came for the cause.

They came for the fun.

And they came for the always entertaining and possibly lucrative Helicopter Golf Ball Drop.

The Santa Maria Valley YMCA held its 39th annual FUNraiser golf tournament Friday at the Santa Maria Country Club.

There were several ways to go home a winner — champions were crowned in both low gross (no handicap) and low net (with handicaps figured in) divisions of the 18-hole scramble golf tournament.

Winners were also crowned in the closest-to-the-pin and men’s and women’s longest drive competitions.

You could pick up some quick cash if your number was picked in the 50-50 drawing.

And there were several items you could win — if you had the highest bid — at the post-awards dinner auction with auctioneer Todd Ventura and his assistant, Sunny Country 102.5 FM’s Jay Turner.

“I didn’t play this year. When I do the announcing and music, it takes too much time to set all the equipment up,” said Turner. “And I’m horrible at golf. We’ll all have a good time with the dinner and auction. This is a great community social event.”

With all that's going on, the Helicopter Golf Ball Drop is still the most anticipated part of the day.

At stake this year — a chance to win half of the $12,650 pot.

“This is our biggest year yet for the Golf Ball Drop,” said tournament committee member Christina Denne. “We sold 506 balls for a total of $12,650. Half goes to the YMCA and the winner or winners get to split half of that — $6,325.”

Each of the players received one ball for the drop as part of their entry fee. Anyone, whether playing or not, could buy as many additional $25 balls as they wanted.

“And we added a new twist this year. The person whose ball lands farthest from the hole wins $100,” said Denne.

Shortly after 5 p.m., pilot Mark English flew over from English Aviation at the Santa Maria Public Airport with tournament co-chairman Jeff Saleen and committee member Phoebe Jaeckels aboard.

“I can’t lift the bucket this year because I’m still recuperating from back surgery,” said Saleen. “So Phoebe gets to hang out of the helicopter this year. I’m just going along for the ride.”

“It’s my first time flying in a helicopter. I tried to get Mark to take me for a ride and he said ‘no,’” said Jaeckels. “But I did get to train with the buckets — for about five minutes — yesterday. It will be fine.”

Jaeckels was correct as everything ran smoothly.

The drop was moved from the 18th fairway to the first fairway this year because the trees lining the 18th have grown so large that it made it a tight squeeze for English and his aircraft.

Another change — the balls were divided into three buckets.

“That will make them easier to handle than one large bucket,” said Jaeckels. “And we’re flying in a larger helicopter so it will be a lot better.”

“It’s a beautiful day — a beautiful day for golf and a perfect afternoon for the golf ball drop,” said well-known meteorologist and tournament regular Jim Byrne. “It was a perfect day on the course and the conditions are great for the helicopter ball drop.”

Three balls went into the special hole that was cut into the middle of the fairway and one of them went to the youngest winner in the 15 years of the ball drop.

“Emilia Frakes was one of the winners. She’s the 9-month-old daughter of Nadia and Mason Frakes — Yay, college fund,” said the Y’s Executive Director Shannon Seifert.

Roy Kilgore with San Miguel Farms, and Tracy English, Mark’s wife, were the other winners but the YMCA was the big winner as both donated their winnings back to the organization.

And there was a tie for the first-ever farthest-from-the-pin ball drop between Terry Dwarzyxk and Fernando Holguin, who split the $100 prize.

In the tournament, the low gross championship foursome, shooting a 57, included Matt Lane, Gene Berban, Byron Wimmer and Brian Mansfield.

The low net champions, with a 47.9, were Les Graulich, Al Eschenbach, Kevin Huber and Rich Kopp.

“We’ve been close for the last three years — this is awesome,” said Kopp.

Behind all the fun, there is a serious side to the event.

Every year the tournament raises money to help the children of the Santa Maria Valley.

“We form partnerships with other non-profits,” said Seifert. “This year we’re partnering with CALM, Child Abuse Listening Mediation. We’ve done a collaborative grant so we’ll be able to teach teachers how to spot child abuse early on. If we can take care of children early, we can prevent a whole lot of trouble later on. CALM, Rise Up, STEM — everyone we partner with helps raise children in the best circumstances possible.

“None of this would be possible without the support of the community and local businesses; the agriculture industry, the construction industry, local banks. We have to say a big 'thank you' to everyone for all their support."

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Senior Sports Reporter

Elliott Stern has worked at Lee Central Coast Newspapers for the last 18 years after more than 30 years working in television and radio news and sports.