Cash-strapped Hopkins Tour facing uncertainty

By Jason SobelNovember 8, 2014, 3:45 am

Six weeks ago, Smylie Kaufman won his first career professional title, prevailing over a 117-man field that included past PGA Tour members and a bevy of former college all-stars to take the Crystal Lake Classic on the minor-league Hopkins Tour. 

“I just really wanted to win one of those big Happy Gilmore checks with my name on it,” said the 22-year-old recent LSU grad. “At least if I got one of those, I could feel like I won. But I didn’t get one.” 

He didn’t get the oversized novelty check. Nor a regular-sized check for the $15,000 he earned for winning the tournament. Nor even a reimbursement of his $800 entry fee. 

Nobody in that field or any other during the last two months of the Hopkins Tour season has received a single dime, despite more than $175,000 being owed to players for tournament earnings. 

It’s a story as old as mini-tour golf itself, a concept which originated in the Tampa, Fla., area in the late 1960s: Players pay to compete, ownership keeps the money, players get screwed. Sometimes these pros are victims of a scam; other times the tour simply doesn’t have the money, for reasons ranging from overdue bills to bad investments. 

This instance might be a little of both or neither of either. That confusion makes the current situation frustrating for players and the two men who claim they sold their tour under the best intentions. 

Started by Karl Diewock as the Peach State Pro Tour in 2006, it was really more of a local men’s money game, with 12-15 professionals competing  throughout the Atlanta area. By 2010, though, Diewock and co-owner Greg Hendrix had expanded their vision to become one of the premier developmental tours in the country. Competitors in subsequent years would include the likes of Brendon Todd and Jason Allred, each of whom would soon find success at the PGA Tour level. To use a baseball analogy, if the PGA Tour is akin to the Major Leagues, then their tour was one of its Double-A equivalents. 

For a few years, the tour flourished, perhaps not as a profitable enterprise for ownership, but at least as a viable option for up-and-coming young pros and veteran journeymen still clinging to a dream. Last year, Hopkins Golf became involved, lending its name as title sponsor  and giving the owners reason for optimism entering the 2014 campaign. 

“We felt this was our year to seize the day,” explains Hendrix, himself a former mini-tour player. “We put some forecasts and budgets in place and thought we had a very good chance of being profitable - not off the backs of the players, but with a product that had appeal to advertisers and sponsors.” 

In April, though, by the end of the season’s first month, they realized they’d overestimated this appeal. Seeking to change the business model, they decided to meet with Ben Kenny, a successful businessman in the oil industry who also owns and operates numerous high-end golf properties in the Atlanta area, including the upscale Golf Club of Georgia. 

Kenny’s stepson, Kalen Jensen, had competed on the Hopkins Tour and Kenny had offered to help if Diewock and Hendrix ever needed anything. That offer led to a meeting in May, during which a plan was proposed for Kenny to purchase one-third of the tour, with the two original owners maintaining the other two-thirds. 

“This isn’t an investment,” he told them. “This is a lark. This is fun.” 

As their conversations extended into summer, Kenny requested financial records, bank statements and long-term projections for the tour, all of which were made available. These negotiations began to stall, though. Meetings were rescheduled, then rescheduled again. The sellers felt Kenny was becoming more elusive; Diewock and Hendrix were growing more anxious about the financial state of their tour. Meanwhile, they did their best to keep the payments coming. Some of the funds being paid to players were earmarked for later tournaments. Essentially, they were robbing Peter to pay Paul, as the saying goes. 

“It’s a classic story of living beyond your means,” says one agent who represents a few Hopkins Tour regulars. “I’d love to have a Ferrari in my garage, but after a few months, I’d have to default on the payments. They had the best of intentions, but at some point they had to look at it and ask, ‘What are we doing?’” 

On Aug. 15, Kenny offered a counterproposal: According to Diewock and Hopkins, he didn’t like having partners, so he made a bid to buy the tour and handle all business aspects while keeping the former owners aboard to run the tournaments. On Sept. 10, he took over sole ownership of the Hopkins Tour. 

Two days later, all players who were owed money from the tour received a check from a different bank than past payments, along with a letter from Kenny on North Atlanta Golf Properties, LLC stationery: 

The enclosed check is sums due from the Hopkins Tour. This company has purchased the Tour from SBKG Enterprises, LLC. Karl and Greg will continue to operate the Tour from a very stable financial perspective. They thank you for your patience and look forward to a very exciting 2015. 

“We all thought, ‘This guy has plenty of money, this is going to be great,’” recalls Jay McLuen, who had competed in events throughout the year. “This is going to be a legit tour.” 

That enthusiasm didn’t last long. 

Three days after Kenny’s letter was sent to players, Lindsay Gilliland, his administrative and controls manager at The Golf Club of Georgia, contacted Diewock and Hendrix via email. “Mr. Kenny has decided to have you finish the season,” she wrote. “We will develop an operating budget for 2015 based on final results. Upon his return to Atlanta, he will have a plan for your benefit and compensation.” The previous owners considered this a breach of contract, directly contrary to their signed agreement. 

Diewock and Hendrix insist that they compensated players with any money that was available and never took a salary for themselves. They had acted on Kenny’s good faith that he would handle the business end of the operations, including paying the bills, and were now faced with insurmountable financial odds. 

Meanwhile, the season ended on Oct. 3 with the Hopkins Tour Championship – an event which required no entry fee for those players who qualified, but carried a $72,000 total purse. Diewock and Hendrix scheduled a face-to-face meeting with Kenny for the following Monday which was again rescheduled multiple times. 

When they met on Oct. 15, they handed over itemized results from the final events, including documentation of payment owed to each player, plus their addresses and Social Security numbers for accounting purposes. Instead, Kenny balked at this idea. 

“He said he’d need some time, he’d be back with us in the next couple of days,” Hendrix recalls. “We left that meeting still in the dark and really didn’t have a time frame. We told the players, ‘We’re in a transition, we’ve sold the company, please be patient with us.’ We were trying to sort everything out, but we never had any indication this was going to happen.” 

Six days later, Kenny sent a letter that both shocked and confused Diewock and Hendrix.

“Your recent revelations that there are more charges seems fraudulent to me,” it stated. “I consider this transaction null and void. I expect a return of $143,403.00 by Nov. 30, 2014, or I will commence legal action for collection.” 

An attempt by GolfChannel.com to contact Kenny was met with the following response from Gilliland: “Mr. Kenny is currently out of town. He is not willing to discuss the details of the Hopkins Tour right now.” 

Efforts from Diewock and Hendrix, as well as other officials and players, have been answered similarly. 

“Honest to God,” says Hendrix, “he will not take my phone calls, won’t take our attorney’s phone calls, our players’ phone calls. We’ve tried that angle. Everyone gets his personal assistant, who just says he’s not in town and he’ll return your call when he gets back, but with no timetable.” 

All of which has left the once-burgeoning mini-tour facing an uncertain future. Tournament officials, courses and players are all owed money. Some of the latter have corporate sponsors to defray the cost of playing in future events, but many others don’t have the means to continue. 

“It’s a completely different world for guys like us than guys on the PGA Tour,” explains McLuen, who competed in three PGA Tour events last season. “On the PGA Tour, there’s no entry fee. We have to pay between $700-$1,200 depending on the tournament. Factor in travel expenses and it can be $1,000-$1,800 just to play, with no guarantee of making money. If you make a cut, you’re barely breaking even.” 

Hendrix agrees: “A lot of times this can be career-threatening. I don’t think Mr. Kenny realizes that.” 

How this conflict will be resolved – if at all – remains unknown. 

“We’ve tried to be as transparent as we can in this process,” Hendrix acknowledges. “Were there some bad business decisions? I’m willing to concede that, but intent to defraud anyone was never in our plans. I can’t speak for Mr. Kenny, though.” 

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard


On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry