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1998 tourney themed 'Legends in the Making'

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by Bryan J. Smith

SBJ Staff

The folks at the Nike Ozarks Open are hoping that this year's tournament will introduce Springfield to some "legends in the making."

This year's tournament will be held Aug. 13-16 at Highland Springs Country Club. This tourney is the 23rd stop on the Nike Tour this year, and the second in Missouri.

The theme of this year's Nike event is "Legends in the Making," chosen because of the growing number of Nike Tour graduates who are going on to success in the PGA Tour.

"If you watch golf at all, every week Nike Tour graduates are on the leader boards," said Jerald Andrews, executive director of the Nike Ozarks Open. "This is where the PGA players of tomorrow are going to be playing this year."

The local tournament is one of the largest of the tour in terms of spectator attendance. Last year, 27,000 people attended the Nike Ozarks Open, despite rainy conditions for five days of the tournament week and a weather-shortened 54-hole tournament.

However, the rainy weather didn't seem to dampen the spirits of the spectators or the players.

"As the professional players were walking off the course, they were saying 'We come to Springfield and play in front of more people in the rain than we play in front of in great weather at any other location,'" Andrews said.

The Ozarks Open is also known for having more volunteers than any other tourney on the tour. More than 1,200 people volunteered for last year's event.

Volunteer coordinator "Judy Weekley is a very inspirational leader, and I really credit her for a lot of that," said Bonnie Keller, public relations coordinator for the Nike Ozarks Open.

This year's tournament is also expected to raise more money for charities than in past years. Last year's event raised $155,000 for children's charities, breaking the record for local donations.

Throughout the eight years of the tournament, $850,000 has been raised for the charities that benefit from this tournament locally.

This year, though, the fund-raising grand total is expected to reach the million-dollar mark.

Changes in the tournament should help to reach that goal. The week of the tournament will feature four new events, including two pro-ams.

The Consumers Food & Drug Junior Pro-Am will take place at 7 a.m. Aug. 10. The pro-am will team Nike Tour players with 90 children, some of whom have never picked up a golf club before.

"About half of the participants in that pro-am are what you might call underprivileged children who may not ever have an opportunity to swing a golf club, and they'll be out with Nike Tour golf players," Keller said.

The other new tourney within the tourney is the Silver Dollar City Pro-Am, which will take place Aug. 11 at Ledgestone Golf Course.

Branson entertainers will participate in the tournament, which will raise money for two additional charities, Camp Barnabas and Branson Youth Life.

Participants for the event include Andy and Debbie Williams, and some of the Presleys, Andrews said.

"The two charities that we've added, Branson Youth Life and Camp Barnabas, will receive one half of the net proceeds from the Silver Dollar City Pro-Am," Andrews said.

On Tuesday evening, Highland Springs will hold the finals of the TCI Long Drive Contest. This contest began earlier at four area driving ranges, and has different age and gender groups.

The Cruise and Travel Connection 19th Green Party is planned for Aug. 15, following the round of golf that day. This event will be held in the Beer Garden tent. A $10 cover charge will pay for live entertainment, food and a chance to win two round-trip tickets to Hawaii.

Another change in the tournament is the addition of a sky box on the ninth hole.

The addition was the result of the success of a sky box on the 18th hole last year. That sky box will remain at the tournament this year, as well.

This year's tournament is taking a new angle, attempting to attract people who may not necessarily be big golf fans.

Keller cited radio and television advertisements directed to different audiences besides the weekend golfer.

Attendance numbers may also increase after the announcement that Casey Martin will participate in the tournament.

Martin caught the media's attention in February when he sued the PGA and won the right to operate a golf cart in Nike Tour and PGA events.

Martin suffers from Klippel-Trenauney-Webber Syndrome, a rare circulatory disease that makes walking painful.

Also, local golfer Kory Bowman was named as one of the sponsors' exemptions for the tournament.

Bowman is currently fifth on the money list for the NGA/Hooters Tour.

And though the tournament has been one of the most popular events for golfers and non-golfers alike, Andrews downplays talk that Highland Springs could be the future home of a PGA Tour event.

"This is a great market for the Nike Tour, based upon sponsorship support," Andrews said.

Regarding the upcoming Nike Ozarks Open, Andrews said this year's tournament is likely to be another record-setting year.

"I think it could be the biggest and best ever," Andrews said. "There seems to be greater hype going into it than ever before."

Tickets may be purchased for the event through the Nike Ozarks Open office, at any Consumers location or at participating McDonald's locations.

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