tampabay.com

Play to win one like a pro

If your competitive fires burn for some tournament action, the Golf Channel Amateur Tour is for you.

By BOB HARIG
Published March 1, 2007


Your winning face here

There are professional tournaments all around us in Florida, piquing our curiosity. If we had the skills, could we hit the shots under pressure? Do we know the rules well enough? Could we hole that clutch putt on the final green?

Golfers of all skill levels need wonder no longer. Just check out the Golf Channel Amateur Tour, a nationwide circuit that has nine tours in Florida, including Tampa and Sarasota.

"What we found is that players didn't want to be tied down to their country club playing the same course against the same players," said Rick Adamek, co-owner of the tour. "The only tours out there for an amateur were set up by the USGA and you had to be a 2 or 3 (handicap) or better. That's about 1 to 2 percent of the population. We felt that guys going out there shooting in the 90s or 100s are just as competitive as someone who is scratch. There just wasn't the avenue.

"So we felt there was the need for this. It's a way to network, play different courses."

Before becoming affiliated with the Golf Channel this year, the tour went by other names, including the Michelob Ultra Tour and the American Amateur Golf Tour. The Golf Channel has given it more exposure via golfchannel.com, including schedules, standings and statistics. Members can even compete for a spot on the channel's latest Big Break series.

Brad Atkinson, a salesman from Lutz, swears by the tour. Now 41, he didn't start playing until he was 25. After steadily improving, his friends told him that "things would be different if you played some real competition." He didn't know where to find it until somebody told him about the amateur tour.

"I went on the Web site and it almost looked too good to be true," he said. "I went ahead, played one tournament, and my lucky story was I happened to win my flight. It was at Bloomingdale, there were probably 75 people in my flight, which was third at the time, and I was real happy to be out there. I wondered how they got everybody else to lay down so I could win. But it hooked me for life.

"I played 19 tournaments that year and now I'm in my fourth year. We've all wondered what it would be like to lead a tournament and sleep with the lead. We're not playing for millions of dollars, but it's still very exciting. It's like an addiction to me right now. I play in every one I can play in, 13 or 14 in Tampa. I travel to the majors, might go over to Orlando for one of their events."

The cost is $199 for a season, and that allows entry into any tour event in 29 states, the District of Columbia, Halifax and Winnipeg. Fees for each event, $90-$110, are based on the venue. There are men, women and senior divisions and competitions are flighted based on handicap index. USGA rules apply.

Most are one-day events. Prizes are typically merchandise certificates, and per USGA rules, their value cannot be more than $750.

The tour also has what it calls two-day "majors," which will be played at the Walt Disney World, Grand Cypress and Innisbrook resorts. Players accumulate points based on their finish in each event. They are used for season-ending prizes, as well as qualifying for special events, including the national championship.

"The allure for me is the competitiveness," said Lou Savinetti, 52, who owns a bottle company in Tampa and is a 12 handicap in his sixth year. "I can't play baseball or soccer, but you get out there with 100 guys and you can mix it up. I'm playing against guys where I have a chance to win.

"They announce your name on the first tee, dozens of people watching. That's why my handicap outside of the tour is probably 9 or 10. You don't feel any pressure in casual golf. But I love that we take it right to the end and somebody wins by one stroke. It's so competitive. I've been involved in seven or eight playoffs and that really gets fun. It makes you feel like you're out there like a pro."