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Monday, September 22, 2014

Golf in Latvia - The Senior Skins Match

The notion of running an event in Latvia came from Brig Pari, a DC native, who's mother was from Latvia. She and I met at a Christmas party and it was her vision that led to our first event. Where is Latvia you ask? Well, so did I when first approached about running a professional event there about 18 months ago. A quick Google search found Latvia in the Baltics bordering Belarus, Estonia, Lithuania and Russia. With an extraordinary history dating back over 800 years, Latvia has been occupied by the Swedes, Nazis, and the Russians...twice!
So, 18 months and many early morning phone calls later (Latvia is seven hours ahead of east coast time.) I found myself in Riga, the capital city. It is a gorgeous, walkable city with wonderful views, architecture, restaurants, museums and coffee shops. And how many 18 holes golf course do you suppose there are in Latvia? 10 or 20? Actually the answer is one, Ozo Golf Club, and there are three nine hole courses. Ozo is a fine 6,800 yard golf course designed by American Rob Swedburg. It’s owned by the famous Latvian ice hockey player Sandis Ozolinsh – thus the name “Ozo” which was his nickname when he played for the Colorado Avalanche.

Our official poster signed by the players

The first ever event in Latvia to feature European Senior Tour players was a big success. We’ll come on to the format of play, but the mission was to introduce the country to great professional players and we chose wisely for the Skins Match – Tony Johnstone, Barry Lane, Ronan Rafferty, Sam Torrance. I used to represent two of the players (Tony and Sam) and worked many times with Barry and Ronan, so I knew we were getting seasoned professionals who give of there best on and off the golf course and are a joy to work with. The players arrived on two late night flights, one from Moscow and one from London and they were greeted at the airport by traditional Latvian singers. I think all enjoyed the welcome. Courtesy cars from Amserv Lexus took the players back to the official hotel, The Albert and we all headed to the 11th floor bar to catch up – some things never change!

Day one was Pro-Am day and it began with a bunker and chipping clinic by Tony and Ronan and a long game clinic by Sam and Barry. When you see these guys close up you really do appreciate the talent professional golfers have. We had a full field of 72 in the pro-am and on a beautiful sunny day at Ozo everyone had a great time. 

Barry's team

Sam's team with the Federation President, Mr. Kristopans

The goody bag proved very popular!

Simon Harris from the European Senior Tour and I announcing the scores

And so back to the hotel for a quick change before heading to the Swedbank building for the gala dinner. There were some great touches created by our onsite organizer, Ieva. The floral arrangements were created to look like golf balls and the red carpet leading to the photo board was actual grass – a very cool idea! I interviewed the players, who as usual entertained the crowd with their views on happenings in the world of golf, most notably the Ryder Cup which is played in late September (three of the four players were former Ryder Cup players and Tony would have been if he wasn’t from Zimbabwe!). It was a spectacular evening enjoyed by golfers and non golfers alike.

 I interviewed the players, who as always were on good form

 Sam and Tony sharing a joke

The Dulevska sisters - our star organizer, Ieva and her sister the Latvian TV star, Jana

 Event founder, Brig Pari with Mr. Vilis Kristopans, the Latvia Golf Federation President and and General Secretary, Aiga Nesaule

Tony, Barry, Vija Tirzmale from Ronald McDonald House Charities Latvia and Sam

Day two was the Latvia Senior Skins Match. Fortunately the rain that threatened to delay us disappeared just before the guys teed off the 10th hole for the nine holes. They were playing for $95,000 and after many matching birdies they ave us a thrilling finish with the final hole worth $52,500. Two of the players were in close with just Sam to putt from around 30 feet and what do you know, he holed it and made the pose made famous following his winning Ryder Cup putt in 1985. The crowd went wild! Agreed, it was not quite as significant a putt as at The Belfry, but it provided a fitting close for the spectators and confirmed how competitive these guys remain, even after hundreds of Tour events. Here are some more pictures from the day.
 Ronan Rafferty

 Barry Lane

Tony Johnstone

 Ronan chipping from the waters edge

 The final tee

 Sam holes the winning putt

 Tony, Sam, Ronan and Barry

 Brig says a few words at the closing ceremony

Sam presents Vija with a check for $15,000 to Ronald McDonald House Charities Latvia

Following photographs and thank yous to the players and sponsors, Hotel Albert, Amrita Water, Amserv Lexus, the guys were off to the airport.  It was a great couple of days supported by great people at the club and on our organizing committee. Roll on 2015!

Our date for a full field event on the European Senior Tour is week two of August - so let the marketing commence. If you or someone you know someone is interested in sponsoring the event email me and let's talk! We have packages starting at $5,000.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

A Great New Ball Comes to Market - Vice Golf

I was recently sent a few dozen golf balls from a new German company. They are called Vice and the balls come in a variety of colors and compressions. And having tested them for the last couple months they are really, really good. These guys are very brave entering the US market and going up against Titleist, Callaway and Bridgestone in the worst retail golf market in memory. But, with awesome packaging and a quality product, priced to sell at way, way below the big boys, I wish them luck. Take a look at their website and you'll see pricing at around $25 a dozen and I defy you to tell the difference between Vice and Titleist if your handicap is north of 10. Even for the single digit player the Vice Pro is a great alternative to the $60 a dozen Titleist option. Give them a try by buying online here. (and no I'm not a paid spiffer - this is a great golf ball!)