Stories Of Americans Passionately At Play

"Sport, at its best, at its most human, is able to inspire an innocence and joy that is unique to each of us."
~ Richard Corman ~

From the IGTS Vault



Tour de Golf Tours: The Futures Tour

In April of 2010, author Tim Forbes embarked on a one-year “sports walkabout” that took him across the country to 100 sporting events involving 50 completely different sports. Why? Well, it’s complicated. His journey and ultimate discoveries about the true value of sports were published in the book “It’s Game Time Somewhere” (Bascom Hill Publishing, 2013).

I feel bad for women professional golfers. I really do.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time around women’s golf, so I feel qualified to say this – I have yet to see a female pro truly grasp the essence of the golf swing. I’m not trying to get all Hank Haney or anything, but they all seem to labor under the misconception that swinging smoothly and rhythmically through the golf ball will somehow propel it adequately. Please.

Every male golfer knows that to really succeed at golf you have to get a python-like grip on the club, tense up every single one of your muscles, and swing from the heels, timing your forward lunge precisely. It also helps to actually lift one of your feet off of the ground at some point in the swing. Any other approach will result in the golf ball travelling just 80 or 90 yards. This is common knowledge among men.

It was armed with this special insight into the game that I ventured out into the world of pro golf. And in a thought pattern that all but the newest reader will recognize, I figured why do something simple if I can over-do it? Why visit one pro golf tour when you can see two…or three…or four. In the same week. Yes, I’m aware that most people don’t think this way. But the opportunity was just sitting there for the taking. In fact, logistical child’s play:

  • On Wednesday, the Futures Tour City of Hammond Classic ProAm, outside of Chicago
  • On Friday, second round action at the LPGA Championship in Rochester, NY
  • On Saturday, the Champions Tour – specifically, day two of the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open in Endicott, NY
  • And to wrap it up, Sunday’s final round of the PGA Tour Travelers Championship in Hartford, Connecticut

Beginning this adventure with the Futures Tour was a no-brainer. In addition to providing me with a chance to actually take part in an event I was covering, the City of Hammond Classic enabled me to once and for all put to rest the age-old saying “You can’t go home again”. Having worked for the Futures Tour for several years, I am now here to tell you that you can.

Not only was it like going home, it was like going home on Thanksgiving weekend, playing touch football in the back yard with all your cousins, and pulling the lucky half of the wishbone from the turkey. The Futures Tour is that comfortable.

Blessed with the most approachable pro athletes on the planet, this tour is to women’s golf what the Nationwide Tour is to the men – the launching pad for a career on golf’s biggest stage. Scan the final results of virtually any LPGA tournament, and you will find dozens of players who have previously graced the fairways of the Futures Tour. And “graced” is the operative word here.

The purse money is not great. Travel is almost exclusively by car – often hundreds of miles at a time between Tour stops. Sponsorships and endorsement deals are hard to come by. Just five players each year earn the right graduate to the LPGA Tour with a fully unrestricted membership. But despite all of that, these young women approach every tournament as another opportunity to succeed. And they get it, with “it” being the dynamics of professional sports in the new millennium.

Ask pretty much any Futures Tour player to define their job, and they’ll tell you: (a) Play great golf; and (b) Entertain fans and sponsors. And they take both responsibilities equally seriously. Which is why playing in a Futures Tour Pro-Am is just about the most fun you can possibly have while losing a dozen golf balls and most of your golfing self-esteem.

So it was with fingers crossed that I contacted Tournament Director Carole Jo Fremouw to inquire about the possibility of squeezing me into the field for the first of the two Pro-Ams that kicked off the City of Hammond Classic’s tournament festivities. And Carole Jo being Carole Jo, not only did she find me a spot, she paired me with Bill Sokolis and Aaron Moore, the respective Owner and GM of the Chicago Bandits.

The Bandits are the defending champions of the National Pro Fastpitch league, the only women’s professional softball league in the country. They feature a roster of decorated collegiate and Team USA softball players, and play a schedule of 50+ games a year, culminating in a late-August championship series in Louisiana. And they face the exact same challenges as did I when working for the Futures Tour – how to effectively carve out a space for a “second tier” sports property in a crowded sports and entertainment world.

So not only would I be enjoying the company of an engaging young golf pro for the afternoon – I would be taking part in a mobile sports marketing symposium. Sweet. Can you blame me for showing up almost two hours before tee time?

Lost Marsh Golf Course is a modern marvel of civic engineering and land use. Built entirely on a landfill in the industrial corridor southwest of Chicago, the course is truly an oasis in every sense of the word. I get the sense that the course is always kept in good shape, but on this particular week each year, when Lost Marsh hosts the Futures Tour’s City of Hammond Classic, I arrived to find it in impeccable condition.

The fairways were lush, the tees were neatly manicured, and the greens rolled quick and true. Most impressively, given the plot of land to work with, the course routing is surprisingly interesting (and I mean that in a good way). Sure, water comes into play on a lot of holes, but then again water on one hole proves to be a formidable challenge for me.

What every tee shot at Lost Marsh looks like to "some" golfers

Lefty Aaron Moore demonstrates what every tee shot at Lost Marsh looks like to “some” golfers

To cap it all off, work on a majestic new clubhouse was recently completed, resulting in a building that puts most private country clubs to shame in terms of beauty and lively atmosphere. All of this on a parcel of land that would otherwise have gone unused and blighted.

I was at Lost Marsh GC to take part in one of the two Pro-Ams that preceded competitive play in the City of Hammond Classic. And while I expected to be recognized by some people, I never anticipated how warm would be my reception. From Tournament Director Carole Jo Fremouw, to my former colleagues on the Tour’s staff, to many of the talented and charismatic pros that make the Futures Tour the most fan-friendly sports property imaginable, everyone made it a point of stopping by to say hello and check up on me. It was like having about 100 additional sisters for the day, without the requisite battle for time in the family bathroom.

A surprised Aimee Cho greeted me as if I were visiting royalty. Selanee Henderson and I relived our team’s championship run in the “Amazing L.A. Race”. And two of Indiana’s favorite golfing daughters – Ashley Prange, a past champion of this event, and newlywed Danah Ford Bordner went out of their way to tell me how much they enjoyed the blog.

I had played previously in a charity golf tournament with Ashley, so she knows quite a bit about my game. Thankfully she didn’t pass along this knowledge to my team’s pro, Mo Martin, or she might have thought seriously about faking a sudden and mysterious disease shortly before play was scheduled to begin.

I’m not the most talented golfer in the world, but what I lack in natural skill I make up for with a practice regimen that includes…OK, well it includes nothing. Or at least nothing that anyone else would identify as “practice”. Take my warm-up routine for today’s tournament:

  • 11:15 AM:       Arrive at course, turn bag over to course staff to whisk away
  • 11:20 AM:       Change into golf shoes
  • 11:22 AM:       Begin socializing
  • 12:38 PM:       Locate putter, head to practice green to putt
  • 12:41 PM:       Resume socializing
  • 12:56 PM:       Remember that I haven’t registered for the pro-am yet and sprint to do so
  • 12:59 PM:       Begin stretching regimen
  • 1:00 PM:       Hit first tee shot into lake

We started on the back nine of the tournament course, which brought water into play on the first six holes. I lost eight balls in that stretch – playing a scramble, mind you. Fortunately, the team-based scramble format allowed me to shamelessly piggyback on the contributions of my amateur teammates.

And then of course, we had Mo, for whom a “miss” consisted of a ball that varied 0.673 degrees off of its intended line. I feel badly for her. I mean, how much adventure is involved in a golf game that involves only fairways and greens? When almost every putt you look at is for birdie, doesn’t that get old? Hopefully she can take some solace in her two previous tournament championships and current rank inside the top ten on the Tour’s money list.

I’m frankly stumped as to why I can’t get any better at this game. But I’m open to suggestion. And bless her heart, Mo took it upon herself to suggest. After yet another tee shot of mine adopted the not-so-classic left-to-left ball flight and landed deep in the marsh, she called time out to show me that I had been lining up with my feet aimed significantly right of where I thought I was aiming. This forced me to swing across my body, causing all kinds of problems. Curiously enough, right after Mo realigned me, I hit a straight, solid tee shot. Coincidence?

I happily told Mo that it was worth losing eight balls in six holes to earn free professional instruction. And if I had it to do over, I would’ve just thrown eight balls into the water on the first tee and moved directly into the lesson.

The weather, as it can do in Midwest summers, took a quick turn for the worse, and we were unfortunately summoned back to the clubhouse having completed only 14 holes. At the time, we were seven shots south of par, prompting us to declare ourselves the ProAm champions. And who could dispute it? Our group included both the Owner and the GM of a professional sports franchise, as well as the Commissioner of the internationally renowned “It’s Game Time Somewhere” Tour. I think that collectively we know how to spot a winner.

Pro-Am Champions Aaron Moore, Bill Sokolis, Mo Martin, Random Journalist

Pro-Am Champions Aaron Moore, Bill Sokolis, Mo Martin, Random Journalist

Under the category of “They Thought Of Everything”, Carole Jo and her staff had arranged to cap the day off with the excitement that only a tornado warning can provide. What followed was more or less a scavenger hunt for windowless rooms within the spacious clubhouse – the most popular of which was the cart barn, where non-Midwesterners unaccustomed to those types of scenarios huddled. Being the Californian that she is, Mo was the first in line there. Nice girl. Great golfer. Certified Scaredy Cat.

When all was said and done, my takeaway was this: With the Futures Tour you can go home again. And not only will you feel at home, you’ll be able to put your feet on the coffee table AND control the TV remote. But chances are you’ll still be a crappy golfer.

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