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Golf for Dreamers

Professional golf's version of the minor leagues draws hundreds of players willing to put up their own money for the prize pool, and a faraway goal of making the PGA Tour
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
David Caruso, Jan/Feb 2007

(continued from page 2)

He tried playing the Nationwide Tour again, but didn't perform well. He tried new swing thoughts, new putting strokes, but he didn't get the results he needed to stay exempt. So the Grey Goose Tour gives him a place to play, and close to home. "They do a really good job here," says Demsey. "They run it like a Nationwide event. We don't play for that money, of course, but they set up the courses good, sometimes harder than they are on the Nationwide." Demsey, however, earned a 2007 Nationwide Tour card with his performance at the PGA Tour's Q School. The road back has begun.

Charley Yandell, owner of the Grey Goose Tour and its director, says it's important to set up courses to challenge the players and better prepare them for the PGA Tour qualifying process while at the same time providing an economical place to play. "All our tournaments here, and in our West Palm Beach Tour, are played in the same area, so that means no airplanes or hotels, [which helps] keep costs down," says Yandell. "We want to set up the courses as tough as we can, keeping in mind that we can't grow heavy rough on these members courses. We give them some pretty interesting pins to shoot at and get the green speed up as fast as we can. The most important thing is that we have never missed a paycheck or canceled an event. We've become a stable, dependable place to play."

The Grey Goose Tour lets its players ride in carts and wear shorts, two things that are not permitted on the Hooters, Nationwide and PGA tours. Steve White, the Hooters Tour vice president of operations, thinks his tour offers first-rate, maybe even better, preparation for the PGA. "We play our tournaments in a number of different states where there's travel involved and the courses can be quite different," says White. "We require them to walk [they don't have to have caddies] and they must wear long pants. We think this is the best kind of preparation for the Tour, giving these players a lot of the variables and rules they would face on the Tour."

The Hooters Tour runs fewer events than the Grey Goose, but the purses are somewhat larger. In 2007, the Hooters Tour will offer 18 tournaments, each with a purse of $200,000 and first prize of $34,000. It costs $2,000 to join the Hooters Tour and each event has a $1,000 entry fee. While Grey Goose players are competing for about 85 percent of their entry fees (with a takeout for tournament management and costs), Hooters Tour players are playing for about 116 percent of their entry fees. "Unlike the other tours, we're not in business to make money," says White. "This is a marketing arm for Hooters restaurants. Nearly every town we go to has a Hooters restaurant. We become front-page-of-the-paper. And we are a good place to play golf."

For Tommy Biershenk, 33, married with two children, the Hooters Tour has given him a chance for redemption. Biershenk played the Nationwide Tour from 1999 to 2003, but not all that well. He lost his status, and more importantly, his confidence as a professional. In 2004, he sold room key folders with advertising on them to hotels and didn't play any competitive golf. That lack of competition eventually gnawed at him.

"That year off was good for me," says Biershenk. "I realized that golf was the only thing I was good at. I need to quit being a baby and get out there and get to it. I looked back and said, Here's an idiot who's blessed with talent and you just want to quit, give up. I know there is a lot of golf ahead of me."

That's what so many of these players think, what keeps them going through the three-putt greens, the chunked wedges, the bad bounces and the tough lies. Hope springs eternal, even in 39-year-old Brian Cooper. In 2005, Cooper, a former minitour player with 30 victories under his belt, was down on his luck and himself. He was working as a caddie at the Silverleaf club near Scottsdale when he happened to caddie for former Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Mark Grace. Grace invited him to play at his club, Whisper Rock, and during that day asked him about his absence from tour golf.

"Why aren't you playing," said Grace.

"I don't have any money," said Cooper.

"Well, you do now. What do you need to play?"

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