Got Cash -- and Game

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Big Stakes Match Play.
 
You gotta love how straightforward it is. There will be a match. You will play. There are stakes. They are big.
 
Sticks, sharks and hustlers from former mini-tour players to feverish muni course flayers are talking about Big Stakes Match Play, a new tournament planned for next May 11-17 at the CasaBlanca Golf Club in Mesquite, Nev. Its a non-handicap, two-man team event, straight match play. There will be 128 teams, and if you win your first two matches, you make back the $100,000-per-team entry fee. Then youre onto a concept well known in Nevada:
 
House money.
 
And if you win the whole shootin match, you and your partner split $3 million. Thats more than twice what Tiger, Ernie, Vijay and his pals cash on their best Sunday. As long as youre 25 years old by May 1 and you havent played on a pro tour within the last three years ' and you are among the first 128 who can get together a partner and enough scratch ' youre in. And youll be playing for a purse of $9.75 million, bigger than any pot on any tour.
 
Of course, the dollars are huge, but when you talk to former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Steve Bartkowski, who is developing the tour with his friends Jim Thomas and Jim Thompson, you can see the gleam of competition in his eye.
 
Its kind of like Survivor meets Who Wants To Be a Millionaire on the golf course, Bartkowski says with a smile. Its just, who can stand up and compete?
 
What does Joe Pesci say at the end of Casino? Always the dollars, always the dollars. And even though purists may think its crass to measure performance in the noblest game by money, its really quite natural.
 
Think about it: Its an individual sport, and people who play it for a living prefer something more liquid than pro shop credits. So the better you play, the more you should winand therefore, the money list is more a sign of good play than great greed.
 
Its just as natural that good golfers who arent pros would want to test themselves in a money-lined head vise. If you can hack this, you are one tough m
 
BACKUP SINGERS: Shut your mouth.
 
But Im talkin about golf betting.
 
SINGERS: Then we can dig it.
 
The Golf Channel will be televising the event, and I hope I get assigned to cover it. For me, the personalities who answer the clarion call of cash will be what gives the event more texture than a pizza with everything plus an air bubble in the crust. In Nevada especially, youll get gamblers and golf hustlers galore, the kind of guys who used to play big-money games with Evel Knievel.
 
Were already getting calls like that, said Thompson from his Atlanta office. Guys who say, You cant get back to me at this number, and things like that.
 
Not that this will be a shady affair at all. Bartkowski says the Rules of Golf will govern, and none of the old hustler dodges, such as Vaseline-ing the clubface, will be tolerated.
 
Also expected are country clubbers, plenty of pro-tour almosts, and former pro athletes known for their deep love of the game and matching ability: Dan Quinn, former NHL star, and Billy Joe Tolliver, Bartkowskis colleague in the Brotherhood of the Pocket, are on the list already. Look for ex-Major Leaguer Rick Rhoden, a perennial favorite in celeb events, to tee it up as well.
 
Already, people are coming up with novel ways to raise that formidable entry fee, Thompson says. For instance, a number of clubs are getting 20 people to chuck in $5,000 each to back a pair of elite club horses. Or better yet, once the money is up, some clubs are holding a tournament to let potential heroes play for the coveted spots.
 
One company got its customers to sponsor a pair of employees (its an industrial company, and four customers came up with 25 large apiece). And a bar owner in California has been holding all kinds of fund-raising events, and hes looking for a couple of likely players.
 
The run-up to gathering the $12.8 million in entry fees could be as interesting as the tournament. But not likely, when that last putt is being lined up in the final match.
 
Thompson says the entry fees will cover the purse, and the remainder may just handle the advertising, accommodations, and other costs (once you pony up the $100 K, you need never touch your wallet again; room, board, etc. are covered. Man, imagine some of those parties). If there are any profits, theyll come from sponsorships, which Thompson, Thomas and Bartkowski are hawking furiously now.
 
I think this is going to be the biggest event in golf next year, Bartkowski says.
 
Theres an undeniable Everygolfer spin to this that might make Bartkowski right. No courtesy cars, no pro-ams, no press room battles with spoiled tour pros. Just the match, the tee '
 
And all that jing.
 
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