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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As Tour heads to NJ, legalized gambling comes into focus

By Rex HoggardAugust 15, 2018, 4:42 pm

It was New Jersey and then-Gov. Chris Christie who began the crusade to make sports betting legal beyond the confines of Las Vegas, so it’s no surprise that the Garden State would be the pointy end of the gaming spear.

In May, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which had made sports wagering unlawful for the last 25 years, there was no small amount of interest among states to pave the way for a market that could be worth billions in revenue. Less than a month after the court’s ruling, New Jersey approved a bill legalizing sports gambling.

About an hour’s drive south from Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J., site of next week’s Northern Trust event, Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J., was one of the first to open a sports book – generating an eye-catching $8.1 million handle in just 17 days after opening in mid-June – and the PGA Tour’s return to New Jersey for the first playoff tournament is sure to generate interest at the newly-minted book.

But as sports, and particularly golf, wade into the betting pool, don’t expect a wholesale change just yet. Although New Jersey was among the first states to embrace sports betting, wagers are currently limited to a few casinos and racetracks.



“I wouldn’t say the gaming would be any different than what’s currently being offered in Las Vegas or elsewhere, win bets and that type of thing,” said Andy Levinson, the Tour’s senior vice president of tournament administration.

Prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling, most professional leagues, including the Tour, came out in support of sports betting, but they did so with a few important conditions. Many professional leagues, which have been speaking to state legislators across the country for months about any potential betting legislation, wanted to safeguard the integrity of the competition.

The leagues also wanted to have a say in the types of bets that will be allowed – with the Tour looking to avoid what are called negative outcome bets, like a player missing a fairway or a green or making a specific score on a hole – and assure that sports books use official data generated by the leagues (in golf that would be ShotLink data).

And the leagues also have proposed “integrity fees,” which would likely be 1 percent of the handle from betting operators.

Last month, the NBA announced a partnership that made MGM Resorts the league’s official non-exclusive gaming partner, a move that could become the template for the Tour as the sports betting market matures.

“With the NBA deal it’s nice to see an organization like MGM is committed to integrity and sharing specific betting information with the NBA. To see a gaming operator make that commitment is very positive,” Levinson said. “If it included those protections and had that balance between fan engagement while protecting the integrity of our competition, that’s a positive deal for the NBA.”

For the sports leagues, the NBA deal is less about what kind of betting MGM will allow at its various casinos than it is a snapshot into what many see as the ultimate endgame. Part of every league’s plan is a robust online gaming element, which is seen as the only way to end illegal or off-shore betting.

“When we are speaking with legislators across the country one of the important elements includes mobile betting in legislation. The vast majority of sports betting takes place online. The current black market in the U.S. is almost exclusively online,” Levinson said. “One of the goals in creating a legal sports betting market is to eliminate that black market. If it’s not easily accessible, people will continue to use that online service.”

Other than New Jersey and Delaware, which are already developing guidelines for online sports betting, most states are taking a more measured approach. In fact, Levinson explained that since most state legislative sessions have already ended for the year it’s likely that they won’t begin to develop guidelines for sports betting until mid-2019.

 The Tour also has a few hurdles to clear. Under the circuit’s current regulations, players, partners and the Tour itself are prohibited from partnering with casinos or betting institutions. Before the circuit could move forward with any type of deal like the NBA and MGM agreement that regulation would have to be changed.

“We are in the process of evaluating that category,” Levinson said. “We are looking at a wholesale evaluation of our endorsement policy. That’s for the Tour, players, networks, other constituents.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling may have potentially opened vast new markets for the Tour and created an entirely new way to engage with fans, just don’t expect things to change yet, even as the circuit arrives on the front lines of the sports betting transformation next week in New Jersey.

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Nadal checks phone for Tiger update after match

By Grill Room TeamAugust 15, 2018, 3:04 pm

Even the greatest athletes in the world were captivated by Tiger Woods' Sunday run at the PGA Championship.

After winning his match on Sunday to capture the Rogers Cup in Toronto, Rafa Nadal turned his attention to Woods. Cameras focused on Nadal scrolling through and surveying his phone. He then revealed that he was trying to get a Tiger update from the PGA Championship, where Woods made a spirited run to solo second place.



Woods has often been seen at tennis events, watching Nike buddies Roger Federer (no longer primarily sponsored by Nike) and Nadal. Woods and his children watched from Nadal's box during the 2017 U.S. Open and Nadal was on hand at the 2017 Hero World Challenge, when Woods made his return from back surgery.

For the record, Woods has 14 major wins and Nadal has 17 Grand Slam titles, both second all-time in their respective sports.

Check out the video below as Golf World's Anna Whiteley talks to Nadal about his love of golf in the 2016 interview.

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U.S. Amateur playoff: 24 players for 1 spot in match play

By Associated PressAugust 15, 2018, 1:21 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer and Daniel Hillier were tied at the top after two rounds of the U.S. Amateur, but the more compelling action on Tuesday was further down the leaderboard.

Two dozen players were tied for 64th place after two rounds of stroke play at Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill. With the top 64 advancing to match play, that means all 24 will compete in a sudden-death playoff Wednesday morning for the last spot in the knockout rounds.


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They'll be divided into six foursomes and start the playoff at 7:30 a.m. on the par-3 17th at Pebble Beach, where Tom Watson chipped in during the 1982 U.S. Open and went on to win.

The survivor of the playoff will face the 19-year-old Hillier in match play. The New Zealander shot a 2-under 70 at Spyglass Hill to share medalist honors with the 18-year-old Hammer at 6 under. Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas who played in the 2015 U.S. Open at age 15, shot 68 at Spyglass Hill.

Stewart Hagestad had the low round of the day, a 5-under 66 at Pebble Beach, to move into a tie for 10th after opening with a 76 at Spyglass Hill. The 27-year-old Hagestad won the 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur and earned low amateur honors at the 2017 Masters.

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Hammer in position (again) to co-medal at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 14, 2018, 10:37 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer is in position to go for a rare sweep in this summer’s biggest events.

Two weeks ago, Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas, was the co-medalist at the Western Amateur and went on to take the match-play portion, as well.

Here at the U.S. Amateur, Hammer shot rounds of 69-68 and was once again in position to earn co-medalist honors. At 6-under 137, he was tied with 19-year-old Daniel Hillier of New Zealand.

“It would mean a lot, especially after being medalist at the Western Am,” Hammer said afterward. “It’s pretty special.”

No stroke-play medalist has prevailed in the 64-man match-play bracket since Ryan Moore in 2004. Before that, Tiger Woods (1996) was the most recent medalist champion.  


U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos


On the strength of his Western Am title, Hammer, 18, has soared to No. 18 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He credited his work with swing coach Cameron McCormick and mental coach Bob Rotella.

“Just really started controlling my iron shots really well,” said Hammer, who has worked with McCormick since 2015, when he qualified for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay as a 15-year-old.

“Distance control with my wedges and all my iron shots, playing different shots, has become really a strength in my game. I’ve really turned the putter on this year, and I’m seeing the lines and matching the line with the speed really well. I think that’s been the key to my summer.”

A two-time New Zealand Amateur champion, Hillier is ranked 27th in the world. He said that, entering the tournament, he would have been pleased just to make it to match play.

“But to come out on top, it’s amazing,” Hillier said. “Cole is a really good golfer and has been playing well lately. So, yeah, I’m in good company.”