It was another awesome gathering of PLAAY Gamers for the official HISTORY MAKER GOLF Launch Event! Food, fun, new friends...and, oh yes—some GREAT golf!...
The event began Friday night get-together over dinner. Usually, we END an event with a dinner together but with my flight schedule it made more sense to move it to the beginning of the event! One of our Atlanta-area "locals," Jim Surprenant, suggested the Marietta Diner, an iconic local eatery, and what a great choice it was! Some good home cookin' served up in a classic Americana setting. Over dinner we got to know each other a bit better: Jeff is an airline pilot, Amber does website optimization for a major insurance company, Jim is a freelance creative writer and stay-at-home dad. Great food, great folks, great conversation!
After dinner, we headed back to the Courtyard Marriott for a Chip and Caddy Card Clinic. Definitely helpful! Most folks had never really looked at the caddy cards, much less actually used them. Of special interest were the two "green read" putting cards (for CLUTCH and normal putts), and the Aggressive Golf, Hazard Avoidance, and Golfer Charge cards.
After about an hour of disccussion, we golfed! With six of us gathered around the table, we decided to form two three-somes. The first three-some included me, Jeff Crosskno, and Brien Aronov. Al Wilson, Jim Surprenant, and Jim's wife Amber made up the second three-some. We used Tony Betros' Orlando AP (Bay Hill) course cards for our exhibition round—with apologies to Chad McEvoy, whose Sheboygan Straits course was the winner of our HMG Course Creation Contest, in the "real-life course" category. We were supposed to be playing Chad's course, but, long story short, I was running behind schedule Thursday and packed my game materials in haste, grabbing Tony's course but not Chad's. FWIW, I also forgot to bring the name tags I had printed for the event. I promise I'll be better organized for the next out-of-town event, September in Seattle!
I did remember to pack the custom cards I had created for each Atlanta PLAAY Gamer, thank goodness. I created six distinct golfer profiles, each card designed to perform at the same overall level, about one under par for an average course. There were cards for "Big Hitter," "Sharpshooter with Irons," "Star Around the Green," "Magician from Hazards," "All-Around Solid," and "Seasoned Pro." I then had each person choose in advance which card they wanted, and made custom cards for all. I hadn't made a card for Amber, but figuring that there might be a couple of surprise participants, I brought along blank cards representing the six different golfing profiles. Amber chose the "Big Hitter" She and Jeff (all-around solid) finished with an evening-best two-under par 70, and Jeff birdied the playoff hole to win our exhibition event. It was really, really fun. Everyone enjoyed experimenting with the caddy cards and Tony's course played very close to the real thing—nice work!
Saturday morning, me, Al and Brien met again in the hotel lobby for a round on Richard Hanna's contest-winning "Mystical Emerald" course. What fun! (Richard has created an encore fictional course, featured in the newsletter, which is equally cool! The highlight of the round was when Brien's tee shot on the 6th hole ricocheted off a tree—straight to the PIN to set up an unlikely birdie. The "Luck of the Irish" was definitely with Brien, he shot a blistering 66 while Al and I floundered around in the upper 70s, 8 and 9 strokes behind.
Saturday noon, we met at The Raven's Nest for the main event: the PLAAY Masters Tournament! I have to "gush" a bit about the Raven's Nest, they were such wonderful hosts for us! Very spacious, very gracious. Thanks to Dave Sands, the manager, and our event host Drew. They had another game event going on simultaneously with ours, and I think we made more noise than the other gamers did!
For the main tournament, we formed two foursomes and gathered around one large table with a modified leaderboard set up in the center. The first foursome was made up of Randy Alton, Kyle Cope, Jim Surprenant, and Jim's seven year-old son Bob. (As an aside, one of the things that made this event so memorable was that Jim brought Bob along to play! Bob is clearly ahead-of-the-curve when it comes to kids and sports games: he understood the concepts and played great!) The second foursome was made up of Al Wilson, Brien Aronov, Jeff Crosskno and Kiefer Fairbanks.
Our modified leaderboard featured above/below par cards replacing the "strokes back" cards that come with the game. We decided that the first foursome would play four holes before the second foursome teed off. Everyone started lined up on the "E" (even par) line, but things quickly separated as some guys got hot, other got cold. At one point, Randy Alton was three under par, which represented the high point of our scoring for the day. For most of the event, there was a healthy spread between the top and bottom golfers. With each of our golfer cards designed to average one under par on a normal course, we were not expecting our cumulative play to be Jack Nicklaus level. And Augusta being, well, Augusta, birdies were rare and pars were very well-received. Some golfers demonstrated a steady sinking trend on the leaderboard. Kiefer bogeyed five of the first seven holes, including a triple bogey on 2, and capped it off by hitting a fan on 13! He finished eight over par, at 80! Jim had similar trouble on the back nine, bogeying five of six holes at one point.
Our event format called for the top four tournament finishers to play in a "Skins Game" event for $100 in PLAAY Money, and as it wound down, a big gap opened up between the top and bottom golfers. Three golfers (Randy, Brien and Jeff) had basically "clinched," three (Kiefer, Kyle and Jim) were out of contention and two—Al WIlson and Bob Surprenant—were battling it out for the final place in the skins game. Everything was on the line on 18, Al faced an easy putt for par to clinch fourth place—and missed! (One of our many collective "Gallery Groans" of the day!) Bob made his putt, edging out Al for the fourth "money" position—VERY exciting!
For the record, here were the final round final scores for all contestants: Randy and Brien, 71 (-1); Jeff, 74 (+2); Bob, 77 (+5); Al, 78 (+6); Kiefer, 80 (+8); Jim, 81 (+9); Kyle 82 (+10).
The Skins Game was a lot of fun, too. We moved the action to the Kapalua course and designated PLAAY Money values for each hole won, with the money amounts increasing as the event went on. We saw a number of pot build-ups, which really added to the drama. Randy, Brien and Jeff each won money, with the cash divided almost equally. Then, at the end, in a wonderful gesture of good-sportsmanship, the three of them signed over their winnings to our "prodigy," Bob!(Bob chose to spend his winnings on HISTORY MAKER BASEBALL and SOCCER BLAST, plus a couple of HMG courses.)
With some time left before everyone had to take off, we decided to modify our schedule "match play single elimination" event. Originally, we planned to run this even concurrently with the Skins Game, with all the golfers who didn't make the Skins Game. Turned out, everyone wanted to watch the Skins Game! But since it went smoothly and quickly, we decided to switch gears and open up the match play event to all golfers, going with a "best three of five" holes format (instead of best four of seven we planned.) The results were surprising, and very cool: two of the golfers who finished near the bottom of our Masters Tournament—Kiefer and Jim—faced each other in the championship bracket of our match play event! We decided to have them play a full 18 holes to resolve the title, and we moved the action to Richard Hanna's "Mystical Emerald" Course. Kiefer had chosen the "Star Around the Green" card for its short game and clutch putting, but found himself putting mostly for bogey at Augusta. It was way different on the Irish course, as Kiefer strung together a half dozen or so clutch putts over the back nine, and capped off the amazing run with an eagle on a lucky bounce off the rocks on 15! Jim played great golf, but just couldn't keep up. He finished the front nine leading by two strokes, but posted bogeys on four of the final six holes (including a double bogey on 15, where Kiefer had eagled), and after that, it was clear that Kiefer had the round in the bag. It ended with Kiefer shooting a three under-par 69, Jim finished seven strokes behind, four over-par at 76.
Afterwards, we sat around and visited for another half hour or so before it was time for some folks to head home and for me to head back to the Atlanta airport for my return flight to Denver. It's always hard to say good-bye at these events, although as Brien and Al proved, connecting again is always possible. Hey, the 4th Annual Time Machine Tournament is just a few months away!...
A huge thank you to all who made time to attend, and to The Ravens Nest for hosting us. There was some discussion about making the PLAAY Masters an annual event—not a bad idea!