After a one-week break, the Nationwide Tour kicks back into high gear this week at the BMW Charity Pro-Am at The Cliffs. The tournament, which is widely regarded as one of the most entertaining on Tour, offers a little something for everyone -- for the golfer and non-golfer alike.
The BMW Charity Pro-Am at The Cliffs, which dates back to the 1992 season, is now celebrating its seventh year in its current format of grouping amateurs and celebrities with Tour professionals in a three-day, better-ball competition. Amateurs, celebrities and pros rotate between three courses on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with the 14 lowest scoring pro-amateur/pro-celebrity teams advancing to play Sunday's final round.
"This tournament is definitely unlike any other that we play," said Australian Bradley Hughes, who now calls the Greenville, S.C. area home. "You have to be much more patient, especially when you're playing with amateurs and celebrities. Throw in the three-course format and it makes for an interesting week. But we all look forward to it because it is nice to meet so many different people from all walks of life."
Among those "walks of life" are actors such as Oscar-winner and local fan-favorite Kevin Costner, George Lopez, Cheech Marin, David James Elliott and Catherine Bell, just to name a few. Costner is perhaps best known for some of the most famous sports movies of all time, playing characters such as Ray Kinsella in Field of Dreams, Crash Davis in Bull Durham and Roy McAvoy in Tin Cup.
If Hollywood isn't your speed, the music industry is well represented with Darius Rucker and Mark Bryan from the Grammy Award-winning and multi-platinum selling band "Hootie & The Blowfish." Greenville native and award-winning musician Edwin McCain and R&B singer Javier Colon are also on hand to show that their talents extend to the golf course, as well.
And for those fans who have a tough time deciding between actors or musicians, the previously-mentioned Costner will make their choice easy, as his band -- Kevin Costner and Modern West -- will perform at the tournament for the second consecutive year. This year's free concert will be held Saturday night on downtown Greenville's Main Street.
Costner isn't the only participant this week who enjoys mixing golf with music. Take PGA TOUR veteran Larry Rinker as an example. Rinker, who happens to be making his 600th career start this week in a TOUR-sponsored event, has been playing rhythm guitar on a recent tour by rock legend Stephen Stills.
Not to be outdone, the sports fan will have plenty of viewing options as well. Hockey aficionados will no doubt be following "The Great One" Wayne Gretzky, but two-time Stanley Cup winner Brett Hull will merit plenty of attention as well. If baseball is your passion, former Boston Red Sox outfielder Jim Rice will fit the bill. Football fans will flock to the pairing of Tour pro Ricky Barnes and Pro Football Hall of Famer John Elway.
"In terms of fun, this is one of the best tournaments that we televise," said former Tour player and current GOLF CHANNEL on-course commentator Jerry Foltz. "Obviously having celebrities in the field adds to the buzz surrounding the tournament. But the overall atmosphere here -- from the pros to the amateurs to the fans -- is something special and should be cherished by the players."
But lest anyone forget, the competition to be among The 25 is heating up on the Nationwide Tour. That will be the main focus as one of the strongest fields of the year -- including all nine winners and 23 of the top 25 on the official money list -- fight it out for their portion of the $650,000 purse. The $117,000 first-place check given to Sunday's winner will surely go a long way in placing the winner of this event well on their way to a PGA TOUR card for the 2008 season -- just as it did for 2006 winner and Nationwide Tour Player of the Year Ken Duke.
One perk that wasn't available for Duke, but will be for this year's winner, will be a brand new BMW X5 Sports Activity Vehicle. How fitting would it be to see Hall of Famer Gary Player stride up to the 18th green on Sunday to collect his first Nationwide Tour title and a brand new BMW? That's right, the winner of 24 PGA TOUR tournaments, 19 Champions Tour events and nine major championships is playing here this week, too.
And to all of the golf fans tuning in to the Nationwide Tour this week, he is the biggest celebrity of all.