VITO DESANTIS WAS 14 years old when some friends invited him along to play golf.
When he got home, his father said that if Vito went golfing again, his father would pay for lessons because it was such a difficult sport to learn.
When Vito came home from his second game, he found a gift certificate for lessons at the Gold Mountain Golf Course in Bremerton on the table.
Vito, who played baseball, fell in love with golf but said learning to hit a golf ball was the hardest thing he’s ever done.
“It was so frustrating that I couldn’t hit something that was sitting still,” he said. “I worked and worked and worked at it.”
He got the hang of it, turned pro and became a member of the Professional Golfers’ Association of America.
Now director of golf at the Port Ludlow Golf Club, DeSantis is taking on another challenge: to play 100 holes of golf in one day as a fundraiser for charity.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” said DeSantis, 37.
He said he’d thought of doing a one-man marathon for a cause such as disaster relief, having heard of pros raising money that way.
So when members of the Port Ludlow Seattle Children’s Hospital Guild approached him about doing a fundraiser for the hospital, DeSantis suggested the marathon.
He had a reason that was close to home: His niece was diagnosed with lymphoma when she 12 years old.
He visited her when she was treated at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital.
“I saw firsthand how they help children in need and their families,” he said.
The one-man marathon takes place Tuesday, Aug. 21, with DeSantis at the starting tee before sunrise in order to make his goal of 100 holes.
Individuals can make a minimum pledge of $25 or, to make things interesting, pledge different amounts for each par or bogey (one over par), birdie (one under par) and eagle (two under par) that DeSantis makes.
To make it even more interesting, he said, “they can promise to double their pledges if I make the 100-hole goal.”
DeSantis is a scratch golfer, meaning his handicap is zero; under normal circumstances, he will complete a round of golf at par, the number of shots an expert golfer will score.
But these are not normal circumstances.
In order to play 100 holes in 14 hours of daylight, plus with a short break or two, he’ll have to complete 18 holes in under three hours and play the first few holes in the dark.
“I do know the course,” he said. “I’ll be OK as long as I don’t drive the golf cart off the path.”
Besides daylight, the other factor in his success is how many other players are on the course that day. He hopes it won’t be raining because he’ll be out there by himself.
But on a nice day, there’s usually 100 to 150 people playing, he said. It takes a foursome about four to five hours to play 18 holes, DeSantis said, while a single person on an empty course can get through the course in two hours.
Members of the Port Ludlow SCH Guild are going to decorate his cart, which will help people realize what he’s doing.
“I’m hoping they see me coming, step aside and cheer me on,” he said.
The most he’s played on one day, he said, was 55 holes at the Bandon Dunes Golf Course in Oregon.
But that was walking, not driving a cart, and most of the time playing in a foursome, though he kept going after everyone else called it a day.
“I was tired,” he said. “I was pooped.”
A 1993 Bremerton High School graduate, DeSantis attended Olympic Community College, then moved to Tucson, Ariz., in 1996 to become a golf pro.
He returned to the Northwest in 2003 and now lives in Gig Harbor with his wife and two daughters, ages 6 and 4.
His niece is now almost 16 and cancer-free, DeSantis said.
After he sent out an email telling friends he was going to do the marathon, some responded, “Are you crazy?” Others volunteered to drive his cart or caddy for him.
“I’m taking only a marker, a person who keeps score,” DeSantis said.
While DeSantis is playing round after round of golf, the Port Ludlow Guild members will be cheering him on from the clubhouse patio.
Starting at 5:30 p.m., there will be a “Go Vito” party and spaghetti feed at Niblick’s, the clubhouse cafe. The dinner, which includes salad and bread, will cost $10, with $1 going to the fundraiser for Seattle Children’s Hospital.
There also will be a contest to see who comes closest to guessing DeSantis’ total score for the day.
“It should be fun,” he said, “and hopefully, it will raise a lot of money.”
After taking golf lessons that summer 23 years ago, DeSantis made the golf team his freshman year at Bremerton High School. He attended Olympic Community College and started an apprenticeship at the shipyards.
DeSantis said his father, who worked as an engineer at the Bremerton shipyards, was a golfer and had hoped that Vito would follow in his footsteps off the course, not on.
“I left the apprenticeship at the shipyards to turn pro,” DeSantis said. “He was not happy.”
Money raised by the golf marathon helps cover uncompensated care for children from Jefferson County who are treated at Seattle Children’s Hospital.
Pledge sheets will be available at the Port Ludlow Guild’s booth at the Festival by the Bay in Port Ludlow this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
For more information about the golf marathon and dinner, phone Claudia Avicola at 360-437-4124 or contact DeSantis at the Port Ludlow Golf Club, 751 Highland Drive, Port Ludlow, WA 98365, or 360-437-8270.