Backspin: A high-stakes event goes dark

Backspin: A high-stakes event goes dark

If you tuned in to Golf Channel last week hoping to catch the much-hyped Ultimate Game, you had the ultimate wait instead, as the event was canceled a week before it was scheduled to begin (April 29-May 4). The tournament had promised a field of 64 two-man teams paying $50,000 each to compete for a $1 million first prize in a five-day, match-play event at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif. But as of April 22 only 24 teams had paid in full, with another 24 partially paid up.

The owners of the event, Steve Bartkowski (yes, that one) and Joe Thomas (a lawyer), attempted to reduce the field to 48 teams, but their partners balked. What went wrong? “In our communication with them, most teams said they were forced to withdraw largely due to an inability to secure funding in a struggling economy,” Bartkowski and Thomas said in a release, later adding that they hope to bring the event back next year.

Alas, this is the second time in the Ultimate Game’s four-year history that it has not reached the 1st tee. Perhaps the owners should consider a biennial schedule.

Two-time champion Fred Couples was bummed last month when he learned that he hadn’t qualified for the Players, one of his favorite events and one that he has played 24 times in the last 26 years, missing only in 1994 and 2007. By the middle of last week, though, he had moved up to first alternate, and when Will MacKenzie was forced to withdraw to have knee surgery (it’s an epidemic!), Couples had his ticket back to TPC Sawgrass. … A players’ meeting was held last week at Wachovia, and conversation on two topics became animated and went on for more than a half hour each: slow play, a perennial problem; and near-unanimous criticism of Golf Channel commentator Kelly Tilghman. Said one player in attendance who asked not to be identified, “I was pretty surprised.” … Player director Stewart Cink says the Tour policy board is monitoring cut patterns as part of a plan it is considering to reduce weekly cuts to the top 65 players and ties (from 70). If such a system is enacted, expect the same type of uproar from the rank and file that followed this season’s ill-fated MDF (made cut, did not finish) rule.

Champions Tour dabbler Mark O’Meara had dinner with Tiger Woods on April 30 and reports that the world No. 1 is coming along fine: “He is so tough mentally and works so hard, he will be ready [for the U.S. Open], you can be sure.” … Among the many calls Trevor Immelman received after winning the Masters was one from longtime family friend and three-time major champ Nick Price, who had some advice about life as a Tour star. “I told him the bar was raised after winning a major,” Price said. “Just look at what Tiger does. He gives the media the time they need on Wednesday, and then he’s down to business. The hardest thing is learning how to say no. I told Trevor to call me when he had any questions [on] anything [about] being a major winner.”

To the right is a U.S. military rendering of a proposed five-year, $5 billion development for the Green Zone in Baghdad that, according to the AP, will include hotels, a golf course, shopping malls and a soccer stadium — to transform the U.S.-protected Green Zone from a walled fortress into a centerpiece for Baghdad’s future. Read the article here.