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A Duffer's Dream

Fantasy Golf Camp at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas Pairs Amateurs with Top PGA Tour Players
Michael Konik
From the Print Edition:
Ron Perelman, Spring 95

The game of golf has been good to Tom Kite. Forget the many millions he's earned in endorsements for clubs and balls and automobiles; forget the five-figure fees he commands for corporate outings; forget all the extras. In official PGA prize money alone, Tom Kite has won more than $9 million playing golf tournaments. More than Arnold Palmer, more than Jack Nicklaus, more than Greg Norman. Tom Kite is the sport's all-time leading money winner.

This is not a man who has to do anything he doesn't really want to do.

Yet on Las Vegas's Angel Park links on a freezing cold day in November--it's snowing for goodness sake--Tom Kite is climbing into a rocky ravine to poke around a clump of desert cacti with his pitching wedge in search of an amateur's ball.

Earlier in the day he could be seen down on one knee, teeing up Titleists for hackers on the practice range. At an evening cocktail party he could be heard swapping personal stories with dozens of awestruck admirers he had never seen before. And one day, when the weather became too inclement for golf, even for fanatic all-time leading money winners, Kite was spotted on the floor of a hotel ballroom rolling out Astroturf mats and administering putting lessons.

"That's what this week is all about," Kite says, smiling broadly. "I'm here to help. The campers are the stars."

The "week" is called Fantasy Golf Camp, where sod-diggers of comparatively little skill get to play, mingle and carouse with the game's greatest practitioners. Back home you may be a sorry slicer who seldom sees the short grass on a fairway, but when you play a "scramble" tournament at Fantasy Golf Camp you might be teamed with Ryder Cup Captain Lanny Wadkins, and he tends to keep his tee-shots in the fairway. You may be a hopeless hooker with a double-bogey average, but when you play a round of "best ball" at Fantasy Golf Camp your partner could be two-time U.S. Open Champion Curtis Strange, and he tends to make a birdie every now and then. And although you may have never in your life reached a par five in two, at Fantasy Golf Camp you might be paired with National Long Drive Champion Art Sellinger. Welcome to the world of eagle putts.

Fantasy Golf Camp is the culmination of a yearlong promotion you may have seen conducted at your local country club or municipal course called the Fantasy Golf Challenge. It's the hacker's equivalent of "all you need is a dollar and a dream." Each year thousands of golfers pony up a modest entry fee--between $10 and $100--to play in regional Challenge tournaments. This small investment pays remarkable dividends: the winners, be they scratch semipros or high-handicap duffers, are flown to Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, where, when not drinking, gambling and smoking good cigars, they play golf at Angel Park with PGA Tour professionals. And have guys like Tom Kite help them find lost balls.

Does life get any sweeter?

If you are not fortunate enough to win a spot at Fantasy Golf Camp, you can buy your way in. One payment gets you everything: transportation, lodging, meals, gifts and golf with the greats. Officially, the price for 1995 remains undisclosed; but in 1993 it was said to have been $25,000. (Note: It's time to start working on your short game.)

Though "getting there is half the fun" may apply to most pursuits, at Fantasy Golf Camp, being there is all the fun. Pros, Incorporated, the Virginia-based agency that manages some of the biggest names in golf, coordinates the camp's activities and supplies the marquee talent; the talent supplies the memories. If you want to shave strokes off your handicap overnight, you can get an intensive analysis from renowned Golf Digest instructor Scott Davenport. When you need a quickie long-iron lesson, PGA Tour pros like Curt Byrum, Steve Pate and Peter Persons are at your service. And when you want the latest scuttlebutt on the World Tour controversy, ESPN commentators Robert Wrenn and Gary Koch are candid confidants.


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