October is going to be a lot longer than you thought.
Golf Channel has slotted October as Long Drive Month, which means golf's biggest bashers are on deck, so better to just let them play through. The long onslaught will begin Wednesday night, the first Long Drive Wednesday, when Golf Channel airs the first of four weekly shows covering the ReMax World Long Drive Championship and the sport of long driving. It will end Oct. 30 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, of all places, when the finals of the World Long Drive Championship will be televised live.
You may be familiar with the beautiful grid next to the peach-colored butte in Mesquite, Nev., that has hosted recent ReMax Long Drive finals. This time, the playing grid has been tucked into a turn at the speedway and the tee box, which will be elevated, will be surrounded by grandstands. It should make for a unique venue and a unique telecast that could determine whether long driving finally goes main stream. The first show plays at 9 p.m. ET Wednesday.
The shows are edited packages of action and stories from local and regional long-drive qualifying and the recent finish in Mesquite, where the eight finalists for the Las Vegas show were determined. Two big names qualified for the show — Jamie Sadlowski, the small-town Canadian kid who's already broken two swing simulators with the force of his swing on Golf Channel's studio set, and is a two-time world champion (2008-'09); and Joe Miller, a hulking Englishman and former world champ (2010) who hits the ball as hard as anyone.
(RELATED: Watch Jamie Sadlowski put on a show)
Also advancing to the final eight are Aaron Mansfield of Washington, Pa.; Tyler Kellett of Phoenix; Will Hogue of Collierville, Tenn.; Patrick Hopper of Columbia, S.C.; Tim Burke of Orlando; and Matt Hanger of Anaheim, Calif. In another new wrinkle, the final's $250,000 purse will be winner-take-all. To fill you in on what's going on, I talked to Art Sellinger, CEO of the Long Drivers of America.
Are all systems go for Vegas?
Yes. I took all eight guys down to the speedway. Jamie (Sadlowski) had already seen it but the other seven were awestruck. I walked them on the track, the grid, the infield. They stood, basically, where they're going to hit it from.
That sounds like a cool moment.
It really was. We got that on film. It's like, You just won the prize, now here's where you're going. We took them to Vegas for a great night on the town after the competition at Mesquite and it was really good. So they're excited.
I hope you took them to one of Vegas's finest Hooters restaurants.
(laughing) We did a little Palazzo and Venetian, filmed them out on the strip by the Bellagio, and over by the Las Vegas sign, all that good stuff, for the show.
You guys should get a lot of mileage out of being on Golf Channel.
We think so. There's a lot of other stuff accompanying that on Golf Channel. Not only ReMax World Long Drive but all their academy shows are based on long drive in October and their "On the Range" show will be based on long drive, plus some Golf Central pieces. The shows will be every Wednesday night at 9 o'clock Eastern time.
Have you seen any finished product?
I've seen the first show, which is a big introduction to long drive. There's a lot of science, equipment, personality, and we start following players at local and regional levels — some good backstories. That's show one. Show two is the Mesquite action on Oct. 16. Show three gets us to the final 16, then show four is the final live show on Oct. 30.
Too bad they're all on Wednesdays at 9 when I'm watching "Big Bang Theory" reruns.
A little DVR action won't hurt anybody.
Wow, you didn't even flinch on that one. What kind of feedback are you getting from the players?
The players are real excited and they're optimistic and anxious to see how many guys get covered. There was an issue with some players about the new winner-take-all format. Those in the final eight are starting to understand they have a month to line up sponsors because they have an incredible amount of TV time ahead of them on Golf Channel and then the re-air on NBC, the first time Long Drive will have ever been on major network television, Dec. 28 at 4 p.m. Eastern time. These guys understand, Hey, I can rack up some partnership money from sponsors because they're going to get the most TV time they've ever gotten in their lives. These eight guys are starting to see the big picture.
Who are there some good backstories from the early rounds?
There's one guy, Richie Moore, who was a great story. He lost one hundred pounds to qualify. He dedicated his life to his family to lose all this weight and train. We follow his story. We also follow 17-year-old William Hinson, a high school senior from South Carolina, and former baseball pitcher Bobby Bradley.
Have you guys ever hit at a venue similar to the Speedway before?
No, this is totally new territory. This is the most incredible spectacle you've ever seen to hit a golf ball. It's very dramatic. You're up 40 or 50 feet and have the stage right in the middle of where the seats are, then you hit toward the Las Vegas skyline to this patch of grass down below. It's total target golf, you can't line up anything. The grid starts out 310 yards away. Everything else is just space in between. It's a different kind of definition. The whole deal is that this is a place where speed meets speed. NASCAR goes 200 mph there on the track, we go 220 mph off the clubface. It's kind of a cool speed night.
If you had a car race going on while these guys are hitting, that could add another level of excitement.
And I'd have to call Nationwide to add another level of insurance. Perfect. Sure.
How do you handicap the final eight competitors?
Obviously, Joe Miller and Jamie and Tim Burke generate the most speed. They're the fastest guys. Aaron Mansfield is right there as well. From an experience standpoint, it's Joe and Jamie. From a swing standpoint, because it resembles golf in that you've got to hit the fairway, it might favor Jamie. But in this situation where it's winner-take-all, anything can happen. There are clear-cut favorites on paper but it honestly wouldn't surprise me if any of the eight won. Hopper swings so hard. He could go oh-for-24 or he could he hit one crazy freak ball and win it. He'll swing full out, regardless. It'll be cool to watch these swings but I think it'll come down to the guy who can hit a fairway under pressure. I think there will be a lot of out of bounds balls and some matches coming down to a guy being able to get one ball in play. There will be a lot of strategy. If anybody goes up there without a 45- or 46-inch driver as a backup, a safety-net club to get one in play, I'll be shocked.
What happens to the winner?
They're going to get $250,000 on the spot. That's significant. They'll probably go right back to the Palazzo Hotel and go nuts, I guess. They're going to win the money and the best title in long drive. It's very reality show-ish, like "Survivor," in that they will have outlasted 192 players who started in Mesquite, and numerous rounds, and then the final eight will have had to sit for 33 days with a lot of pressure and second place is no dollars. The person who wins this championship is going to say he really earned something because it's a bear.
What could this show springboard to?
The players will get a lot of recognition, can get famous, and they can parlay that into a more appropriate appearance fee for corporate outings or club sponsorship. They should do quite well. As far as the Long Drivers of America, it puts more eyes on us. Being on ESPN around Christmas time with a few replays really hasn't done it the last few years. We have a new partner now. These shows aren't only going to air in October, they're going to air another five times each on Golf Channel. They're going to stay in that Video On Demand vault. It's going to be on NBC. Golf Channel will probably use it as filler early next year, too. Total guarantee is 25 hours of telecast time and that's more than we've ever, ever seen for ReMax Long Drive. Hopefully, that vaults us into more sponsorships, maybe another big event or two, maybe Golf Channel opening their eyes and saying, "We'd like to have a series of these events on our air."
One last important question for you on Las Vegas: Blue Man Group or Celine Dion?
Blue Man Group.
Is that because, like you and I, they don't have much hair?
I've seen the show seven or eight times, it puts me in another world. I get into the crazy, sick world they're wrapped up in. That's one of my favorite shows.
They definitely have more violence in their shows than Celine Dion, so I see how you'd like that.
I call them the Blue Headed Children. They're fun.