Father and son win golf classic in Los Sueños

March 18, 2011

One-year-old Zach Eberhart needed emergency surgery. He was diagnosed with a heart murmur. Doctors told his parents that an operation had to be done immediately.

So the family headed to Austin, Texas, in the U.S., for the surgery. But they couldn’t find a place to stay. Basketball fans in town for an NCAA tournament had booked all the hotel rooms.

Across the street from the Texan capital’s Breckridge Hospital, the Eberharts found the answer – a Ronald McDonald House.

Across the world, Ronald McDonald Houses offer community housing near medical facilities for seriously ill children and their families.

“You can stay with us as long as you want,” John Eberhart, 48, recalled officials at the house telling him.

The Eberharts spent the night there and the surgery was a success. The stay was free. For 20 years, the family has given back to the Ronald McDonald House.

The Eberharts retired to Jacó a year ago and arrived last Saturday to participate in the 10th anniversary of the Ronald McDonald House Golf Classic at Golf La Iguana at Hotel Marriott’s Los Sueños, in Herradura, Puntarenas. Due to a top flight performance by father, son and two other teammates, the Eberharts received another freebie from Ronald McDonald House – a free trip to Puerto Rico.

The foursome of Zach and John Eberhart, Joe Garcia and Lisle Head outplayed more than 100 other golfers to win the classic and the right to compete in next year’s Ronald McDonald golf tournament in Puerto Rico. Event coordinators estimate the event will raise $60,000 for the Ronald McDonald House charity in Costa Rica thanks to entry fees, raffles and sponsors. That money will go toward the building of the first Ronald McDonald House in Costa Rica.

Rita Gutiérrez, corporate communications manager for the Ronald McDonald House in Costa Rica, said the company has already bought property near the Hospital de Niños (Children’s Hospital) in San José. Blueprints of the house were on display at the golf course. It’ll cost $1 million to build.

“We’re ready to initiate construction on the house,” Gutierrez said. “And by the end of the year we hope to have the house in Costa Rica.”

Tournament participants and officials helped move Costa Rica a step closer to raising the funds for the house with the latest charity golf contest. Competitors hailed from the United States, Costa Rica and Puerto Rico.

Players thwacked drives in a sweltering heat near the Pacific Ocean. At various pit stops, golfers were provided drinks, sausage and even mango ceviche. Or they’d pose for photos with McDonald’s mascot Ronald McDonald, who managed to keep the smile (painted) on his face despite a relentless sun.

The winning team even endured injury to claim the top prize. Lisle Head, 33, suffered a large, bloody gash to his scalp after a golf cart accident on the 12th hole. But his “post-head wound” performance helped fuel the team’s victory, Zach Eberhart joked afterward.  Joe Garcia, 44, who said he originally wasn’t planning on playing, completed the foursome.

They’ll all travel to Puerto Rico to compete in a similar fundraiser tournament. The teammates all praised Zach, 21, for leading the group to the win. Zach also won a door prize on the 14th hole for having the drive closest to the pin.

Zach Eberhart picked up his first golf club only a few years after his emergency surgery. He and his father have been playing together ever since. This is the second tournament father and son have won as teammates in Costa Rica this year.

Since his first experience in 1990 with one of the Ronald McDonald houses, John Eberhart always has been grateful to the charity. He donated toys, bedding and extra clothing to local houses in Texas before moving to Costa Rica.

“We always want to give a donation,” Eberhart said. “That’s the reason we came for the tourney.”

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