Photo by Emily Matthews
By Luke Furman for The Beaver County Times
HOPEWELL TWP. — Rick Gradisek teed off Thursday morning when the birds first started chirping, and he did not plan to pack up his clubs until they stopped.
For 28 years, Gradisek has participated in a charity golf marathon called the Longest Day of Golf, an all-day, 16-hour event that benefits the American Cancer Society through pledged donations.
Gradisek, a dentist from Center Township, and three other golfers started the event in 1990 and played 54 holes, a long shot from the team record set in 2013 of 263 holes, Gradisek said. Each June, Gradisek and a changing group of companions try to break their record by a few holes more.
“Our goal is to play as many rounds of golf as we can,” Gradisek said. “It’s a breeze.”
This year, Gradisek played the course unaccompanied by additional golfers for the first time, beginning at 5:14 a.m. Only his dental partner Dr. George Mistovich, of Center, and friend Cindy Kuton, of Coraopolis, trailed his fast-paced cart, keeping score and delivering refreshments when needed.
Mistovich has golfed in the event four times and played in the original in 1990. Kuton golfed once in the event with a group of four women, who covered 54 holes during the day.
First held at Black Hawk Golf Course in Chippewa Township, the Longest Day of Golf moved in its second year to the Club at Shadow Lakes in Hopewell Township. The club allows Gradisek to start before sunrise and play the course for free throughout the day.
“The generosity of the members is so accommodating,” Kuton said as Gradisek prepared to drive a ball down the 17th hole. “They even provided lunch for him.”
In 2014, Gradisek had to postpone the event to October after undergoing a hip replacement. He played 126 holes that year.
On Thursday, Gradisek broke his solo record of 272 holes in 2016 by playing through 275 by the time he wrapped up at 8:45 p.m.
“(Thursday) had to be as perfect of a day as any,” Gradisek said. “There was a slight breeze, no humidity and none of the predawn fog that sometimes happens. It was as perfect as can be.”
Along with being a longtime golfer and dentist, Gradisek served more than 20 years on the Beaver County board of the American Cancer Society. Kuton held a spot on the board, as well, before it moved to Pittsburgh in 2014 as a consolidation group.
The idea for the event had already existed in the organizations charity canon, but Gradisek championed the idea with his affinity for golf and devotion to the charity.
“I told them I would do (the Longest Day of Golf) as a fundraiser,” Gradisek said. “Cancer affected people who were friends and relatives. Only four years after I become active with the charity, my father died of colon cancer.”
In addition to Gradisek, Kuton and Mistovich have dealt with cancer firsthand, dedicating parts or all of their Thursday to a personal cause.
Gradisek said that friends, family and people subscribed to a mailing list pledge a donation either based on a flat rate or by the amount of holes the group plays. For example, pledging 10 cents per hole with a total of 275 holes would amount to $27.50.
“A few people still pledge a dollar per hole, but most people give a flat rate,” he said. “In 1990, pledging money was en vogue, but now it’s a lot of extra work.”
The event brings in around $5,000 to $10,000 each year, Gradisek said. He said the exact figure of this year’s earnings will not be known until the fundraising portion of the event concludes. He plans to possibly use GoFundMe in the future.
After finishing the 275th hole of the day, Gradisek said he took a shower then enjoyed dinner and a cold beer with his brother and a few friends.