A 32-year-old fundraiser tied to the Sutliff Bridge will have to end or change its practices after the Iowa Department of Natural Resources decided the event in which golf balls end up in the Cedar River amounts to littering.
The Sutliff Golf Classic has been occurring since the 1980s, including most recently last Saturday. Contestants tried to sink a hole-in-one on the opposite bank of the river, land a ball in an inner tube on the river, putt on the bridge deck or hit the longest drive. The purpose of the event in most cases isn’t to hit golf balls in the river, but despite contestants’ best efforts, many of them end up there.
“The hitting of the golf balls into the water is considered littering,” said Erika Billerbeck, conservation officer for Iowa DNR in Johnson County. “We are looking at other things they can do.”
Billerbeck said a citizen complaint called attention to the fundraiser, and this is the first such complaint her agency has received about the Sutliff Golf Classic. No further punishment or clean up requirement was doled out, she said.
“We didn’t issue a citation at this time,” she said. “We just didn’t want them to do it anymore.”
She said the organizers — the Sutliff Bridge Authority — could use biodegradable golf balls in the future, but those need to first be approved by the Iowa DNR.
The event originally formed to raise money for bridge maintenance and insurance. But after Johnson County assumed control of the bridge after the 2008 floods, the beneficiary transitioned to college scholarships for children from nearby small communities including Lisbon, Solon, West Branch, Mount Vernon and Tipton. Dozens attended the event, which raised $2,000 last weekend.
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“Over the years we’ve retrieved as many of the balls as we possibly can, including on the day of event,” said Randy Howell, a member of the authority. “And when water recedes, we go pick up more from the sandbar.”
Still, Howell said he understands the littering concern and they will either switch to a biodegradable ball or discontinue the event.
“Hopefully it will continue,” said Howell, who also owns Baxa’s Sutliff Store and Tavern.
Mike Carberry, chairman of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors, applauded the Sutliff Bridge Authority for its fundraising efforts and creativity in designing the winter golf event. He said he wants to thank the authority for doing the “right thing to protect the water in the Cedar River,” considering Iowa’s well-documented issues with water quality.
“Sutliff people do a lot of great stuff up there and this was a charitable event,” Carberry said. “We just want to make sure they are doing it right. We need to do what we can to protect waterways for all citizens,”
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