GAYLORD, Mich. -- Treetops Resort, with its 81 holes of golf and breathtaking vistas of the Pigeon River Valley, is the perfect setting for a made-for-TV event like the Par 3 Shootout. The friendly confines of the resort, the four-man field, and the homey atmosphere created by Director of Golf Rick Smith and his staff, make this event unique in the world of golf.
Don't believe it? Just ask the pros.
Raymond Floyd, who won last year but came out on the short end of the stick this year, called the 2001 Shootout "the best event yet." When asked about the unique rules of the game -- anyone winning a skin must validate it on the next hole by at least tying for low score -- Floyd responded, "I love the validation rule. This is the only event of its kind for that reason. It's special to have events like this. I would love to come back, if they invite me."
Phil Mickelson, second-highest money winner this year behind the million-dollar man, Lee Trevino, said, "The Shootout is great practice for our short games, and for tour events, because every shot is for money. And it's a lot of fun, too."
As for the course itself, when asked for his impressions of Threetops by his playing partners in the first day's pro-am, Phil Mickelson said, "I don't know of any other course like this in the country."
Paul Azinger, Raymond Floyd, and Lee Trevino concurred. "I've never played a par-3 course this spectacular," said Azinger. When he first stepped onto the teeing area on the sixth, he exclaimed, "This is just like Augusta!"
However, Azinger did admit to liking the par-3 course at Augusta better "because the distance from green to the next tee is shorter." He was referring to the famed elevation changes at Threetops, which practically require sherpas and oxygen tanks.
Floyd complimented the maintenance crew on their work.
"The course is in the best condition ever. It's a completely unique venue."
And Trevino just couldn't get over the natural beauty of the resort and of northern Michigan in general.
"I drove from Traverse City to Gaylord when I arrived," Trevino shared with reporters, "And that hour and a half drive seemed like 10 minutes. I've never seen a more beautiful place."
Without exception, the four pros loved not only the format and the course, but also the intimacy of the event. "This is one of the more enjoyable events I've ever played," said Mickelson. "There's more one-on-one interaction between the players, the sponsors, and the fans." And this, folks, is why the Par 3 Shootout should be a must-attend for all golf enthusiasts: No where else will you get as close to the pros.
The relaxed, intimate atmosphere made for wonderful pro-ams prior to each day's event. Sponsors (mainly employees of Ford) teamed up with the pros to play the nine holes of Threetops. As the only media representative to follow the groups around during both days of the pro-ams, I can personally attest to the fact that these pros - some of the best golfers the world has ever seen - are for the most part, just regular folks. Here are a couple of my favorite images from the pro-ams:
• Lee Trevino is as much fun to golf with as you think he'd be. Constantly cutting up with his amateur partners, he made even their worst shots fun. For example, on the first hole of the second day's pro-am, the foursome playing with Trevino boasted that they'd won the last two years. Then the first guy gets up and chunks his tee shot about 30 yards. Without missing a beat, Trevino asks, "Was he on your team?" Immediately, everyone breaks into laughter, the guy good-naturedly tosses his tee at Trevino, and all four amateurs are loose the rest of the round.
• On the eighth hole, I notice Trevino looking for balls in the tall grass to the right of the green, and tossing a few out to his partners. His manager, with whom I'd been walking all morning, tells me, "Lee loves to ball-hawk. He'd look for balls all day." According to Trevino's manager, the players love these events. "Lee's having a great time. This is like a vacation for all of them," he said.
• Phil Mickelson has to be one of the most personable guys on the tour. He's patient with the press, signs so many autographs you'd think his hand would cramp, and most of all, he's genuinely interested in what other people have to say. During his pro-am rounds, I watched as he explained in precise detail "spring-like effect" and "seaming" ProV1s to his amateur partners. He was so busy giving putting tips on one hole that he forgot to putt out his own ball. This is a man who truly likes to hear what other people have to say.
• Mickelson, in particular his short game, is also a popular topic of discussion among the pros themselves. One of the best moments of the pro-ams was when Phil's instructor Rick Smith and Paul Azinger got to exchanging "Phil stories." "Phil's short-game skills should be illegal," complained Azinger.
• Mickelson's prowess around the greens is legendary, even in elite circles. Rick Smith reported that Phil told him it had required 25 takes to do the new commercial where Phil hits a full lob wedge over the head of the president of KPMG, his main sponsor. "The guy kept flinching," laughs Smith. "And Phil keeps asking, 'Can you just not flinch?' and the guy reassures him each time he wouldn't, and then he does again. Can you imagine hitting 25 full lob wedges in a row, all perfect, or you kill the guy who's signing your check? Hit one just a millimeter thin, and he's dead!"
The anecdotes and stories could fill up several more e-pages, but you get the idea: If you can do it, plan to attend the Shootout next year. There's simply no event like it in the world -- and no venue like Threetops.
June 11, 2001