For all of Augusta National Golf Club’s abounding azaleas, magnolias and acres of immaculate grass, one of this year’s more popular spots among the patrons was a wooded area of pine straw needles roughly 35 yards right of the par-4 10th hole’s fairway landing area. It’s where a year earlier, left-hander Bubba Watson incredibly snap hooked a 52-degree gap wedge shot from 165 yards to within 15 feet on the first hole of the 2012 Masters playoff, which Watson won.
Patrons – including myself during Tuesday’s practice round – stood in that vicinity, pretending to hit a similar shot (a slice for a right-hander like myself) and envisioning how it curved sharply up the hill to the green.
“How many times have you been watching the pros on television and wondered if you could hit the same shot as they hit?” asks Tom DiGregorio rhetorically.
The answer is often, though perception and reality usually take divergent paths.
In August, Knight’s Play Golf Center in Apex will host the GlobalGolf.com Skills Challenge, an amateur version of the popular ADT Skills Challenge that tests the golfing acumen of PGA, Champions and LPGA tour players.
The event is scheduled for Aug. 23-25 – noon to 6 p.m. on Friday; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the weekend – and is open to golfers of any age and playing ability. Entry fee is $30 and a portion benefits the nonprofit Wake Futbol Club, an area youth soccer program.
“It gives the amateur golfer an opportunity to participate in an event that is very much like the professional event,” said DiGregorio, owner of Corporate Golf Services, which manages the event. “It takes about two hours to complete and you can do it with six of your friends or with your kids. It’s just a fun and unique opportunity.”
Golfer’s are challenged in seven skill areas – putting, greenside bunker, short-iron shot, mid-iron shot, hybrid / long-iron shot, chip shot and trouble shot. DiGregorio said the long drive skill was replaced by the hybrid / long-iron shot to make the challenge more equitable.
“Long drive has the tendency to only allow a certain amount of people to really compete. So we thought the hybrid / long iron rewards distance, but it also rewards accuracy,” DiGregorio said.
A golfer gets three shots per skill, and can purchase up to two mulligans to be used on any of the skills. The best of the three shots is awarded between one (best) to six (worst) points based on where the shot comes to rest in one of six target areas. Seven is a perfect score for the entire challenge – a minimum of one point per skill. Overall ties will be decided in a scorecard playoff.
Each day, a winner will be determined in each of four divisions — Men’s Open, Senior Men (50 years and older), Junior (17 years and younger) and Women. On Sunday, all 12 division winners are invited back for a chance to win a car in a hole-in-one contest. That is on top of what each received for winning their division, which is a gift certificate from title sponsor GlobalGolf.com, a three-day / two-night Caribbean Cruise and an eight-day / seven-night vacation to one of 30 destinations.
Kevin Jones, general manager and PGA head golf professional at Knight’s Play, is pleased to see the amateur iteration of the challenge resurrected in the area. He believes it is a creative opportunity for golfer’s to identify the strengths – and weaknesses – of their short games.
“Golfers don’t realize how many strokes they throw away from 150 yards in,” he said, “so this is a good chance for them to see that in a fun and competitive situation.”
Back in the days when Jones was an assistant professional at Carolina Country Club in Raleigh he routinely marveled at one particular junior golfer who opted to practice chipping and putting instead of honing his long drives.
“It was incredible the amount of time he worked on his short game,” Jones said, “you just knew he was going to be something special.”
That kid grew to be Webb Simpson, the 2012 U.S. Open champion who played locally at Broughton High and was a three-time All-American at Wake Forest University.
“Everyone likes to try and hit that 300-yard drive, but the reality is a lot more people would score better if they improved their short games. That’s why I think this will be so much fun,” Jones said. “It’s a way to compete, but also practice and see where you need to get better.”
The professional version of the challenge has been a staple of professional golf’s off-season since 1992, but the GolbalGolf.com Skills Challenge marks a return to the area after a nearly decade-long absence. DiGregorio said one of the major stumbling blocks in the past was finding a venue willing to commit nine holes for three days. While not an easy financial sacrifice for most 18-hole courses to make on a weekend, Jones said the challenge is ideal for Knight’s Play, a par-3 facility that totals 27 holes.
“This is a no-brainer for us,” Jones said. “At first I wondered if we could pull it off, being that we’re only a par-3 facility, but the more the concept was explained, the more I realized we were ideal for the event.”
DiGregorio, who would like to create a series of these events within North Carolina and throughout the Southeast, said the challenge could be completed in about two hours.
“Part of the beauty is that it’s not an all-day event, you’re not spending six hours to play a full round,” he said. “You can come out and participate in the same exact thing that the pros do and it doesn’t matter your skill or age level. With all of the talk of growing the game, this is a good opportunity to get people out.”
To register for the event, visit CorporateGolfSVS.com and click on the skills challenge page.