Sixth annual event moved to Trump National Golf Club

MOORESVILLE – Icy water will greet participatants in Trump National Golf Club Charlotte's sixth annual Polar Bear Plunge as they splash into the lake to celebrate the start of 2014.

The event began as a way for five neighbors of The Point community to release a little stress and tension several years ago.

"It was the end of the financial meltdown of 2008," Organizer Bo Watson said. "And just on a whim on New Year's Day we said, 'You know what, let's start the new year in a different way.' So the five of us went down to the docks, and we took the plunge."

After recovering from their shivering, each friend donated several hundred dollars to what's now called the Hope at the Lake Foundation.

Upon the untimely death from brain cancer of a member of The Point, the man's golfing buddies began the nonprofit to raise money for cancer research and to also benefit the lives of underprivileged children.

But for the last four years, Watson said, proceeds from the plunge have gone directly to Stop Child Abuse Now Child & Parenting Center of Iredell County.

"SCAN, the organization they write the checks to, is valuable and needed in our society," General Manager of Trump National Gavin Arsenault said. "Most important to me is our members are involved. If they're involved, we want to be involved for them."

Watson expects more than 150 people to show up ready for a chilly wake-up call Jan. 1 and said participants travel from as far away as Raleigh and Rock Hill, S.C. To date, the event has raised almost $60,000 for SCAN.

Imaginative costumes are a fun way to add flair and festivity to the plunge, too.

"One couple came dressed up in costume three years ago. The girl went in in her original wedding dress, which was kind of crazy," Watson said. "Last year, we must have had 10 'Where's Waldos.'"

A costume contest is now a staple of the plunge. The grand prize this year includes an overnight stay at The Inn of the Patriots in Grover. Chef Marti Mongiello, executive chef at Camp David during the Clinton administration, is offering a cooking lesson for two at the inn, a bottle of wine and breakfast the next day for the winner.

Registration opens at 11 a.m. The plunge is expected to start around 2 p.m. at the beach behind the Lakefront Ballroom. Traditionally, the plunge took place right off the golf course's 18th fairway, but access to the water is blocked off with shrubbery needed for lake bank restoration.

"We're planting water-friendly plants that are good for fish breeding and environmental sustainability. The process began in 2012 and should last for five years," Arsenault said. "It's actually better because the Lakefront Ballroom is so close to that water that you could literally run out of the building, jump in the water and run back in the building."

Arsenault dove into the water last year.

"It was beyond my wildest imagination cold, and I try to be Mr. Positive about everything. As fast as I jumped in that water, I jumped out faster. This year, I'm going in with a wet suit," he said.

Participants can choose to get fully submerged, swim laps or just wade around at the shoreline.

Watson said at the moment of the initial plunge, balloons are released into the sky to represent children in the community who have passed away over the last year as a result of domestic violence. Last year, swimmers wrote personal messages on a banner and sent it to Newtown, Conn., in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. 

Once back inside, a roaring fireplace will warm chilled bones. There will be music, an open bar and food provided by the club as well as CiCi's Pizza.

For some, chilly weather could always be enhanced by a real winter wonderland.

"I would love one year for it to snow," Watson said. "I think that would be a blast."


Want to swim? Registration begins at 11 a.m. at Trump National Golf Club Charlotte, 120 Meeting House Square. The plunge will start by 2 p.m. Tickets cost $40 for adults and $20 for children. Teachers, military personnel, firefighters and police officers get in free.