At The Heart Of The Hartwell Lake Poker Run

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Todd Campbell, the main man behind the annual Hartwell Lake Poker Run set this year for June 6-8 in Starr, S.C., knows his audience. And for that reason, he keeps the entry fee for events, which raises money for Meals On Wheels-Anderson (S.C.) at an uber-affordable $85 per boat—and passenger tickets are $25 per person.

Let’s take a quick reality break, if only for a moment. There aren’t many—if any—large-scale organized go-fast boating events you can enter for that kind of money. Heck, most post-run bar tabs are higher than that. But again, Campbell knows his audience.

Organizer Todd Campbell is hoping to have 200-plus entries in this year’s Lake Hartwell Poker Run. Photo by Jacob Davis/LakeLifeFotos.

“Everything in the event is ala carte,” said Campbell, who several years ago purchased the then-dilapidated Big Water Marina host venue and has been renovating the facility ever since. “If you want another T-shirt (one T-shirt and one raffle tickets comes with the registration fee) that’s extra. If you want another raffle ticket and a T-shirt for a passenger, that’s an extra $25. If you want food, that’s extra.

“We could charge $200 or $300 for an entry fee, but that would limit the number of people in the community who would come out,” he continued. “This is all about supporting the charity and the community, and every bit of money we raise goes back to Meals On Wheels.”

Clearly, Campbell’s pricing strategy works for powerboat owners in the area—and beyond. Heading into its tenth year, the event averages 180 to 200 entries. This time around, the organizer, who is in the crane business and owners a beautiful MTI V-57 center console called Unbridled, said he’s shooting for 200 boats.

“We have a full pond this year—there’s a lot of water in the lake,” said Campbell. “People are already calling to reserve houses and docks, and we’re getting the new restaurant and bar open.”

Given its entry fee and average fleet size, the Hartwell Lake Poker Run could well be the least-expensive, large-scale event of its kind. (If a less-expensive poker run of the similar scale exists, I’m not aware of it.) Campbell has found a price structure that makes sense for his community and he’s sticking with it.

“And we have no speed ordinance or noise ordinance,” he added, then chuckled. “So we invite everyone to come on out and join us. It’s going to be a good time, and every bit of the money raised, even from the marina—and we own the marina—goes to the charity.”

Editor’s Note: The 2019 Hartwell Lake Poker Run opened registration last Saturday.

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