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                      Wed, 12 Dec 2007 14:28:29 -0800

    The 2007 Partner Speed Golf World Championship

    Tue, 15 Jan 2008 00:00:23 -0800

    On a cold morning in December, eleven teams of two went head-to-head in one of the greatest golf events in existence. Was Tiger Woods there? No, but one of his old Stanford teammates was, along with 8-time Hawaii Ironman Champion, Paula Newby-Fraser and 20-other, uh, er, athletes, sort of.
    He answers to many names and, on the golf course there are more than one: Hack Master, Wood Cutter, Sand Blaster and The Duke of Divot. Whatever you call him, don’t call Bob Babbitt fast. He’s not. He does, however, know how to choose his partners and with Roy Greene at his side, one of the original speed golfers had a shot at the title.

    Brian Enge of Zoot Sports fame had his A-game working. Slyly partnering with James Gilbert, Enge flew under the radar but came on to finish just one spot off the podium in 4th. You can bet they’ll be back next year wearing aero helmets and a SpeedZoots.

    Jim Stuart and his partner, Tom Van Betten show the speed and attention to detail that speed golf requires as they charge from the 17th green to the 18th tee box. Having qualified at the Masters in Yuma, these two crafty veterans displayed their hard won BIG tournament experience…in the bar afterwards.

    Speed golf regular, Craig Davidson and Jason Long move quickly but calmly between holes. Little did either know that Jason would pull off one of the smoothest moves of the day when he jettisoned his wedge on the 18th hole – straight into a tree adjacent to the tee box. Little did anyone know that he was simply unloading dead weight for his final fairway sprint. Good thinking.

    Proving that kids aren’t just cheap labor around the house & yard, Josh Tuffs doesn’t just keep up but drops his dad on the 17th green. The organizers hadn’t considered that child labor laws might be broken when Jason showed up with his son in tow.

    Exhausted but happy, World Champions, Pete “The Cleat” Ligotti and Tom Komine take a moment from the endless post tournament interviews to pose for a photo. We expect this newly crowned dream team of partner speed golf to take the international schedule by storm. These two represent the complete package - a sponsor’s dream, really - of looks, brains, and athleticism.

    JT Clough from K9 Coach (shameless plug) partnered up with recently addicted golfer and long time runner, Paula Newby-Fraser. The two wrapped up the women’s title crushing all comers. Actually there were no other female teams but, hey, a title is a title and Paula and JT were happy to take this one. Nice job ladies.

    He’s a Bad Man! Pete Ligotti displays all the emotion you’d expect after winning a World Championship…unfortunately his teammate, Tom Komine, had to get to work and missed the glory that comes with the presentation of the Championship Belts. Both swore they’d wear their belts all day at work. Why wouldn’t you?

    What started as a cold, dark morning on the links was an analogy for life’s emotions as each team experienced triumph and tragedy, laughter and tears, glory and defeat. At the end of it all, at team was rewarded for performing under pressure and the rest were left to work towards this ultimate prize – with a smile.

    World Champion or not, Pete would hop his bike and ride to work. With the Championship Belt strapped to his backpack, it was a wonder he made it without being accosted by the paparazzi and speed golf groupies. Yes, he rides 18-miles round trip EVERY work day of the year – even after winning the Big One. Next year, it’s rumored that Callaway will be springing for a limo, massage therapists, sports psychologists, life coaches, and, of course, aroma therapists for the defending champions. To the victors go the spoils.

    Do you run and play a little golf? Do you play golf and do some running? Do you find yourself playing less and less golf due to the time constraints of a 5-hour round? Have you always wanted to create your own sport and then call some contrived event a “World Championship”? Do you wonder why a bunch of endurance sports enthusiasts are asking you about golf?

    Let’s back up here and think back to the late 80’s and early 90’s. Yes, it’s been around at least that long. The first time I’d heard of this “activity” was when the man with the most sub-four minute miles in the world, Steve Scott, ran 18-holes on a par 72 course in 29:30 shooting 95. The golf score wasn’t all that impressive (let me clarify, it was impressive to me but not to good golfers) but the time was astounding. When you consider that most par-72’s are around 5-miles in total distance (including distance between holes, etc.) the fact that this guy stopped 95-times to hit the little, white, round ball is incredible. Steve’s best round was a score of 88 in 35-minutes. In standard tournament play, this would give him a score of his round (88) plus his time rounded to the closest minute (35) for a speed golf score of 133. If you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s better to be a good golfer rather than a great runner. Recent Q-school finalist and 11th place Hawaii Ironman finisher Jay Larson could shoot a round of 72 in under 40-minutes – now that’s playing some golf while on the run!

    A standard speed golf tournament has the player (on foot), his caddy (in a cart with all of his clubs), and an independent scorer (in a cart). Players are sent off every couple of minutes with caddy and scorer in tow and most will complete a par 72-course in 45 to 75-minutes and shoot from 72 all the way up to Roch Frey’s unapproachable 144. Let’s give the Canadian a break as this was literally his first ever round of golf. That he had the patience to finish the round should count for something.

    Fast forward to San Diego’s North County and a small group of fools who endeavor to keep fit while sustaining their ability to get out on the golf course on a regular basis prior to receiving their AARP membership applications. A core group of a half-dozen seems to be able to get out for a couple of months a year on a weekly basis – some more and others less – to play the social version of this game. The leader of this group, Bob Babbitt, is well known as the publisher of Competitor Magazine but to those who see him regularly, he’s the undisputed purveyor of play. Babbitt convinced the local public executive course to put up with a group of runners hitting their course at dark before “real” players. The course makes a few extra bucks without impacting their regulars and the fools get their golf ya-ya’s out with a bonus jog – all before work.

    The format is simple. Since it’s a par-3 course (there are two par-4’s the longest of which is 240-yards), most play with a wedge and a putter. Some bring as many as 4-clubs while others choose to play with only one. Weekly play has 3-players teeing off at the same time. That’s right, they line up across the tee box and everyone swings away. Then, it’s simply a case of staying out of one another’s way while chasing your ball to the green and, hopefully, into the hole prior to your bogey shot. To keep things moving, after the bogey shot, you pick up regardless of whether or not you’re in the hole or not. Scoring? Since most of our core group is mentally challenged at the best of times, scoring has evolved into a point system. One point for a par and two points for a birdie – an eagle gets three but those have been very few and far between. Most # of points wins.

    Since we have to be off ahead of the first regular golfers, we’re typically teeing off in the dark – what is known to folks in the sunrise/sunset business as just at or before civil twilight. By the third hole, you can see and aren’t guessing where you ball has landed. On our course, you can usually jump from hole #13 back to hole #6 and play that loop again as many as three times before you’ll see your first regular. This means you’ll easily get 26 and as many as 34 to 42-holes and you’ll be done in 60 to 80-minutes – if you’re jogging and taking your time. If you stick with 18-holes on this course, most mediocre joggers will finish in 30-minutes. At this time of year (winter), you’re done by 7:15 or 7:30am. When you get to work and someone makes the mistake of asking what you did this morning, you can casually say, “ran 4-miles and played 34-holes of golf.”

    So, when Babbitt proposed a winter World Championship back in December, there was no shortage of takers. Speed golfers that hadn’t been out for a couple of years answered the challenge and promised to show up on a cold (cold to San Diegans, anyway), dark Friday morning. In this case, a team format was chosen. Teammates would play together and the time minus the score would determine the 2007 Speed Golf World Champions. Babbitt had some championship belts made (sweet, just like boxing) and it was game on.

    The field included an array of “talent” and age ranges that was sure to make for an interesting day. Some teams were well thought out maximizing golf skill and running fitness while others were composed of strangers who’d never met before. If you showed up without a partner, you took your chances and were paired up with a partner who might be a 7-handicap or a 40. You might get a heart attack on legs or a sub-40-minute 10k runner. Regardless, once the first swings were taken, the playing field was leveled and skill with fitness would rise to the top.

    From my perspective, the nerves on the first tee box were palpable among all but the worst golfers among us. We, the hackers, knew this was about fun but it was apparent to anyone present that all felt they had a shot at their first world title. The obvious favorite was Pete “The Cleat” Ligotti who played a little golf in his formative years at some PAC-10 school with a tree for a mascot. He is rumored to have been a teammate of Tiger but, even more impressively, this guy rides his bike every to work every day in any conditions on a single speed mountain bike. That he now “works” as an engineer for Callaway makes you wonder if, in reality, he plays on the practice range all day long. The fact that he does some adventure racing and is a two-time runner up at the Encinitas Beer Mile says all you need to know about his abilities. Who would Pete have as a teammate? Rumor was that he was bringing some of his Callaway compadres so all but the most optimistic knew we were playing for 2nd place.

    At approximately 6:01am, Babbitt looked up at the starry sky and determined that there was enough “glow” coming from the East to tee off. Pete the cleat and his partner, Tom Komine swung away and disappeared into the dark amid uncontainable laughter. Two by two each team followed as the group in front cleared the green. On the 13th hole, teams made the turn to the 2nd loop but organizers hadn’t realized that the leaders would be overlapping the rest of the field. Since it was a race, the front teams weren’t letting up as they called out a polite “four” and swung anyway. For those on the fairways and greens in front of the lead teams, it was raining golf balls.

    It all seemed to sort out and no one was maimed during the middle holes and, before you knew it, Pete and Tom crossed the timing mats at the final hole in 43-minutes. That was impressive enough but they had also totaled 34-points, which, when subtracted from their time gave them an untouchable 9 – the lowest score of the day.

    The best moments were had when teams that had finished were treated to the spectacle of the other teams making their way through the final couple of holes. Craig Davidson and Jason Long had a memorable moment on the 18th when Jason’s club flew out of his wet hands on his drive. The ball landed safely on the green and his club was safely lodged in the branches of a pine tree 30-yards East of the tee box. Now unencumbered by the weight of his pitching wedge, Long could run lighter and focus on putting while others threw their clubs up at the errant club – which eventually came back down.

    Jim Stuart and his partner, Tom Van Betten had an even more spectacular final hole. Jim, managed to hit a shot that almost resulted in a birdie, er, duck. As the pair ran to the green, the many ducks that littered the final hole scattered leaving one, apparently stunned duck, lying in the fairway. Roch immediately dashed over to the poor thing that apparently had been grazed by Jim’s worm burner. We’re not sure what sort of mouth to beak first aid was applied but, after a minute or two, the duck suddenly came to face-to-face with the well meaning Canadian and flew off with his buddies. As Roch said, “we were about to wring his neck because we didn’t want him to suffer and then he just flew off.” Who says animals don’t have superior instincts.

    At the end of the round, everyone (except those who actually have a life) gathered in the parking lot for the awards presentation and obligatory Christmas cookies made by Babbitt’s long suffering wife, Heidi. Stories were told, excuses were given, and promises were made to practice so that, “next year we’re going to come back and win”! Yeah, right, not if Pete and the Callaway boys show up.

    A big THANKS to the Triathlon Club of San Diego for providing official timing at the Partner Speedgolf World Championship!

    Running Results - exact time and speed golf time rounded to closest minute in parentheses

    1 - Pete Ligotti & Tom Komine - 43:12 (43)
    2 - Roch Frey & Paul Huddle - 43:54 (44)
    3 - Jaques Harvey & Steve Katai - 44:10 (44)
    4 - Brian Enge & James Gilbert - 46:46 (47)
    5 - Michael Shannon II & Christopher "Zeke" Snider - 46:48 (47)
    6 - Andrew Block & Jay Kuderka - 47:11 (47)
    7 - Jason & Josh Tuffs - 16 - 49:44 (50)
    8 - Craig Davidson & Jason Long - 50:44 (51)
    9 - Paula Newby-Fraser & JT Clough (Female) - 51:53 (52)
    10 - Tom Van Betten & Jim Stuart - 55:43 (56)
    11 - Roy Green & Bob Babbitt - 57:12 (57)

    Golf Results – Total points as a result of combined pars (1-point each) plus birdies (2-points each)

    1 - Pete Ligotti & Tom Komine – 34
    2 - Roy Green & Bob Babbitt – 20
    3 - Michael Shannon II & Christopher "Zeke" Snider – 17
    4 – Craig Davidson & Jason Long – 16
    5 – Andrew Block & Jay Kuderka – 15
    6 – Jason & Josh Tuffs – 14
    7 – Brian Enge & James Gilbert – 13
    8 – Jacques Harvey & Steve Katai – 9
    9 – Tie - Paula Newby-Fraser & JT Clough AND Tom Van Betten & Jim Stuart – both 6
    11 – Roch Frey and Paul Huddle – 4 (what?! 4?!!! Wow, that’s really bad.)

    OVERALL RESULTS (running time minus golf points – lowest score wins - that’s why they call it speed golf)

    1 - Pete Ligotti & Tom Komine – 9
    2 – Michael Shannon II & Christopher "Zeke" Snider – 30
    3 – Andrew Block & Jay Kuderka – 32
    4 – Brian Enge & James Gilbert – 34
    5 – Tie – Craig Davidson & Jason Long AND Jacques Harvey & Steve Katai – 35
    7 – Tie – Bob Babbitt & Roy Greene AND Jason & Josh Tuffs – 36
    9 – Roch Frey & Paul Huddle – 40
    10 – Paula Newby-Fraser & JT Clough – 46
    11 – Tom Van Betten & Jim Stuart – 50