Cleveland Hopkins lost its status as a United Airlines hub, but Akron-Canton Airport just landed a hub of its own.
CAK is now officially The Hub of Buffoonery.
For reasons incomprehensible to the rational mind, the people who run the airport, apparently with the full blessing of the TSA, bused a bunch of media weenies out onto Runway 5/23 on Tuesday morning and let them blast golf balls down the river of asphalt.
Runway 5/23 is the main strip at CAK, a 8,204-foot-long beast that can — and has — landed aircraft as large and heavy as Air Force One.
I think it’s safe to say that Tuesday marked the first time in the 68-year history of the airport that a group of people carrying drivers were encouraged to stand in the middle of the runway and smash golf balls off a mat to see how far they would go.
This event will seem only slightly more rational when I tell you it was a publicity stunt for the Bridgestone Invitational, the world-class golf tournament staged annually at Firestone Country Club. (Opening round this year: July 31.)
But how, you may be asking, can a busy commercial airport simply shut down for a couple of hours on a weekday morning?
Runway 5/23 was scheduled to be closed for repairs. The other runway remained active — as was quite clear to the competitors, who from time to time got an earful.
In other words, this was pretty much the best PR stunt ever.
As Bridgestone Invitational Executive Director Don Padgett III put it during his introductory remarks, “The U.S. Open is this week, but this is the coolest event.”
The shots were measured with the same technology used on the PGA Tour: ShotLink, which features the use of lasers to pinpoint distances.
Each participant got three official tries but was allowed to smack a couple of extra ones afterward.
Let it be known that the official champion of the first — and, surely, the last — CAK Long Drive Media Contest was WEWS (Channel 5) meteorologist Jason Nicholas, who clearly isn’t spending enough time in the office. He walloped his third drive 430 yards.
The overall winner was Padgett, a scratch golfer who barely lost a head-to-head match with Tiger Woods in the 1991 U.S. Junior Amateur tournament. He crushed one 432 yards.
Your Favorite columnist finished out of the money, peaking on his second extra swing when he hit it 352 yards.
Others whacking away were Chris Tye of WKYC (Channel 3), who has been taking lessons and is getting dangerous; Tracy McCool of WJW (Channel 8), who displayed excellent form and hit the ball solidly; Mark Schwab of WOIO (Channel 19), who apparently has been working way too hard to spend even one minute on a golf course; and two upper-level Southwest Airlines execs, Bob Montgomery and Pete Houghton, who appear to be low-handicappers.
If you’re guessing the 150-foot-wide runway is sloped significantly to the sides for water runoff, you’d be wrong, blacktop breath. It is relatively flat, with horizontal grooves to aid in dispersing water.
In other words, I don’t have much excuse for the shots that ran off the edges.
I guess I can’t even complain about airport marketing maven Kristie Van Auken yapping away in the middle of my backswing, given that the overall decibel level was sometimes equivalent to — oh, I don’t know — maybe a jet engine.
The noise level peaked during the touchdown of a Delta MD-80, which Van Auken calls “the Harley of CAK.” And the pros complain about a spectator clicking a camera?
One of the things I learned Tuesday is that airline employees have a lot more fun than we normally witness — and I’m not just talking about the Mile High Club.
Montgomery, vice president of airport affairs for Southwest, let it slip that he once grabbed a putter and got in some practice up and down the aisle of an airborne Southwest jet. He also said flight attendants on non-passenger flights have been known to surf down the aisles on trays.
But even those folks couldn’t have had as much fun as I did, standing in the middle of the runway, airliners buzzing around as I whacked away at brand-new Bridgestone golf balls that I didn’t even have to chase.
The event raised $2,600 for Ronald McDonald House, the total derived from adding up the longest drives of each participant.
These sorts of things have been done before. In fact, the world record, as far as I can tell, belongs to Paul Slater, who in 2005, at the London City Airport, hit a ball that stopped rolling 720 yards from where he smacked it.
Must have gotten that one up into the jet stream.