Stars take to links at Promontory
June 29, 2010
If you can’t beat them, join them where they’re a little more beatable.
That was the driving strategy for some on a cloudless Monday morning at the Dye Canyon Course, where Promontory Golf Club gave young and old alike the chance to tee off against the world’s top winter athletes.
"We’re very pleased," said Promontory Director of Golf Tom Rogers of the first-year fundraiser for the club’s Promontory Foundation, which distributes money to local nonprofits. "How could you not succeed with the beautiful scenery out here?"
Before Promontory’s stunning mountain backdrop, nine Winter Olympians wore devilish grins that suggested their golfing acumen wasn’t quite up to par with that of their day jobs.
"I like this a lot," said U.S. Freestyle team member Graham Watanabe, who hits the links frequently but not enough to be undaunted by a challenging private course. "This is a really cool way to meet people through other elements of my life. It’s not easy to get on these courses, and I doubt it’s very common that the weather’s like this."
The day began with a photo shoot and a children’s event, "Putt with an Olympian," in which golfers ages 4-10 met with the athletes on the practice green to receive – and dispense – putting advice. The Olympian turnout was such that some children had their own personal world-famous caddies to chase errant shots.
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Following a protracted meeting on the practice green that ended with Watanabe challenging bronze-winning teammate Bryon Wilson to an impromptu golf-club duel, athletes joined adult patrons for a nine-hole best-ball scramble while the children went over to the Kid’s Cabin to play games.
Some of the Olympians put on their game faces, while others were happy just to get outside in a (relatively) stress-free pursuit.
"I’m always in a bubble going around in circles, and I’m sure Shannon (Bahrke) gets a little tired of doing moguls and the training for that," said 2002 speedskating silver medalist Derek Parra. "This is a chance to get away from our sport and showcase our sport by spreading the word."
Aerialist Scott Bahrke and moguls star Heather McPhie razzed Wilson as they drove to their start positions, while Shannon (Scott’s 2010 bronze medalist older sister) provided emotional support to her U.S. teammates as she continues to recover from recent knee surgery.
For Bill Schuffenhauer, who used to live in Park City with silver medal-winning aerialist Jeret "Speedy" Peterson, the tournament offered a chance for old U.S. Olympic teammates to come together and compare notes on recent happenings in sport and life.
"We see each other on and off throughout the year and we spend so much time together – either at events like this or at the Olympic training center, at competitions, at the Olympics – it’s almost like a family reunion," said Schuffenhauer, who helped end a 46-year U.S. bobsled medal drought when he pushed Todd Hays to victory in 2002. "You know everybody and it’s just nice to catch up with them and see what they’re doing."
The outing also offered Schuffenhauer the chance to dust off his clubs, which have had little use since he returned home from Vancouver. The one-time homeless youth who struggled to avoid drugs and violence growing up in Salt Lake City said it’s very important for kids to associate with the successes of their heroes.
"I remember back when I was a kid thinking that an Olympian or pro NFL guy, how cool that would be just to have an opportunity to hang out with them and to reach out and touch them," he said. "It’s good for them, and it’s good for us too to be able to share our experiences."
A team of moguls Olympian Nate Roberts, Fox13 sports reporter Mike Runge, and Adam and Nick Childers won the first-ever title with a 6-under 30.
"It’s awesome to see all these kids get so excited out here," said Roberts, who called golf his "second passion" and admitted that some side bets might have taken place before the start. "Not even a lot of them play golf, but they’re into the games."
After the golf was over, kids and adults met for lunch while the athletes told inspiring stories and showed off medals in more photographs with the participants.
Ski commentator Sean Smith, skeleton athlete Zach Lund and nordic combined athletes Brett and Eric Camerota also donned their official Ralph Lauren Polo golf shirts for the affair. The lone absentee was 2010 four-man bobsled gold medalist Steven Holcomb, who was unable to get back into town in time due to a hectic post-Olympic schedule.
The event, the brainchild of marketing director Melissa Garland, will likely become "an annual thing," Rogers said.
Most of the Olympians were sparing with tips, but Derek Parra said his alternative background might have given him some insight into the game.
"It mirrors skating," he said. "Skating’s all about rhythm, balance, focus, and golf’s the same way. You don’t push hard to go fast in skating, you push in the right spot. Golf is like that. If you swing too hard, you don’t know where your ball’s going to go."