Two weeks ago, on July 21, golfer Joe Bertoldi got the surprise of his life when he participated in the sixth annual Ron Gill Memorial Golf Tournament at Cranston Country Club. As part of the tournament events, Creative Child Inc. of Coventry sponsors a putting contest each year with a prize of $10,000. No one has ever won the contest.
Until Joe Bertoldi.
The contest takes place on the putting green and each player is eligible to try out for a chance to win. To qualify, the golfers must first hit a 10-foot putt and then a 25-foot putt, which qualifies them to try for the 50-foot shot.
"Out of 144 golfers, only about five people made the 25-footer," said Ron Gill Sr. "Those five had a shot at the 50-footer. Joe was the second to shoot.”
If someone wins, the contest is immediately over.
When it was Bertoldi's turn, he stepped up and gave it his best shot, never expecting what happened next.
"I thought I left it short, but it kept going and going until it disappeared," said Bertoldi.
His shot went in, traveling 50 feet down the green and into the hole, a shot that has to be measured and filmed to guarantee authenticity. Cheers erupted across the golf course as word traveled of Bertoldi's $10K shot.
"I was just in a state of shock," said Bertoldi.
Gill was right there to congratulate him.
"I think I was the second person to reach him and I think I was more excited than he was," said Gill. "We always wanted someone to win, to show people that it could really happen, and Joe is a great guy. Everyone was so happy."
According to Gill, the people at New England Hole in One, the company that insures the contest each year and provides the $10,000, were thrilled as well and started the paperwork flowing right away.
"We had to send in the video and get all the legal papers started, get things notarized, and they were great," said Gill.
On his end, Bertoldi had an important phone call to make once he recovered from the shock of his winning shot. Soon to be married this fall, he had to call his fiancée.
"I texted her at work and I said, ‘I just won $10,000,’ and she didn't believe me. I said, 'Seriously' and she was as shocked as me," he said.
To the Gill family, that was the icing on the cake.
"When we found out he was getting married, that made it all the more special," said Gill.
This year, the golf tournament was especially meaningful to the Gill family, as it fell on the exact date of their son Ronnie's 32nd birthday. A Coast Guardsman who gave his life in the line of duty, Ronnie’s family keeps his legacy alive by providing college scholarship money to students who may not be able to afford an education otherwise.
"As of this year, we've given out $111,000 in scholarships with a couple more to go, so when September rolls around we will have given out about $115,000," said Gill.
He noted that the scholarships would not be possible without the generous donations from all of the sponsors of their many events each year, including the golf tournament.
Other highlights of this year's Gill Golf Tournament included a Coast Guard jet flyover, several hole-in-one contests with prizes that included a car and $1,000, a prime rib dinner with an auction and many raffle prizes, including a TV donated by Best Buy.
"It has a lot of oomph for a golf tournament," said Gill. "It'll be great to be able to tell people next year that someone won this contest this year."
The popularity of the tournament had Bertoldi worrying that he might not get a spot this year, his second year participating.
"The tournament was sold out easily a couple of months before," said Gill. "We have a core group of players that play every year, but we mix in other first-timers every year, too."
Bertoldi was one of those first-timers last year, describing himself as an "alright" golfer.
"I'm probably not so much a good putter as I was just having a really lucky day," he said.
Next year's tournament date is already set for Saturday, July 20, and Bertoldi has marked his calendar. He's looking forward to becoming one of the "core group" of players returning next year, this time as a married man.
"It's a great tournament," said Bertoldi, who plays with a group of mutual friends.
Bertoldi is a Cranston resident and employee at Graybar Electric in Cranston. He plans to donate some of the money to the Gill Scholarship Foundation, to save some of the money and he's pretty sure he'll be spending the rest on wedding expenses.
For more information on the PS3 Ronald A. Gill Jr. Memorial Scholarship Foundation, visit their website at www.rongilljr.org.