Golf/poker's hottest event, the World Series of Golf keeps on growing

By Bill Bowman, Contributor

LAS VEGAS - Terry Leiweke, president of the World Series of Golf, has turned a simple idea into an amazing showcase of golf/poker talent.

Terry Leiweke - President of the World Series of Golf
The event's success has opened up new opportunities, says Terry Leiweke, president of the World Series of Golf.
Terry Leiweke - President of the World Series of GolfJody Garaventa - 2009 World Series of Golf Champion

And he's not finished yet. Not by a longshot.

"This has turned into a great event," Leiweke said of the event which pits players making golf shots and poker bets looking to be the last man or woman standing. "We filled the field (125 golfers). It took us three years to get here but we've worked hard to make it run smoother and better. It's kind of maxed out for us right now, but it's also opened up new opportunities."

Those opportunities include regional qualifiers for the 2010 event, as many as 10 in different regions around the United States.

"What we are going to do is step it up a little," he says. "Let's say 25 entries are rolled into sponsorship agreements (with FullTilt Poker, the Mirage, etc.). That leaves us with 100 paid entries. We can run regional events with $2,000 entry fees for 100 players. We'll play two days just like in Vegas. We'll start out with 20 fivesomes and the top player in each fivesome will advance. Then we'll have five foursomes and one person will emerge out of each of those groups and get an entry into the World Series of Golf main event in May."

The remainder of the field will be determined through the usual way with $10,000 buy-ins.

Leiweke adds that this format will also help the television appeal.

"Instead of just running through applicants, this will enable us to know a few of our players early," he said. "We can then go home with these guys, go to the office with these guys, go to the course with these guys. We'll know the people out of Chicago, the guys out of Palm Springs. It will give us a much better look and feel on the air. All of a sudden the game has kind of grown up and we have to grow with it. And that's exactly what we will do."

And, he adds quickly, the game is going to have more of an appeal world-wide.

"We shot more than 400 hours and did about 200 interviews," Leiweke explained of the final look set to appear on the WGN broadcasts. "It was ungodly. We got it cut down to 13 individual shows. I've seen the first two and the first one I'd rate an 'A' and the second one an 'A+' so it's just going to get better."

Bringing the World Series of Golf to a TV audience

Leiweke likes the numbers from WGN. "They reach 75 million basic households so that's a pretty good audience to hit," he said.

It's easy to look at the World Series of Golf event as a reality show.

"The characters drive the show," Leiweke said. "It's just about the players and the event. We're hoping that, just like poker has hit its current stride, the same thing can happen to us. I'd venture to say that there aren't many singular events that can yield 13 one-hour compelling shows."

World Series of Golf, World Golf Tour join forces

To that end, Leiweke and World Golf Tour have partnered to launch an online version of the game (wgt.com). It will be unveiled the fourth quarter of 2009.

"You get the chance to play great golf courses like Bali Hai Golf Club, Wolf Creek, Pinehurst, Bethpage Black and others, but with our format," Leiweke said. "They will have the greatest courses in the world and people can play virtual golf online."

In the end, Leiweke's vision of the World Series of Golf has come full circle from the early beginnings.

"We wanted to come up with an event that leveled the playing field for players of all abilities," he said. "We wanted an event where a 20-handicap is able to compete with a 2-handicap and the way we've nurtured it, it actually works."

Bill BowmanBill Bowman, Contributor

Bill Bowman is a Las Vegas-based writer who has nearly 40 years in the sports-writing business. He's spent the past 15-plus years covering the golf scene in Vegas and has teed it up for magazine profiles with celebrities including comedian Bill Engvall, actor Jeffrey Donovan (USA's Burn Notice), ESPN personality Colin Cowherd, NASCAR's Kurt Busch, Collective Soul's Ed Roland, the Baltimore Ravens' Jonathan Ogden and many others.


 
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