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Drive competition proves a big hit

One of the more entertaining golf events of the summer season will take place June 28 when the Bloomingdale Golfers Club is host to the Chrysler National Long Driving Championships qualifier. More than 9,000 individuals will compete at 140 locations in the 17th year of the event, which was founded by Golf Digest.

As many as 40 players are expected to compete in the qualifying round at Bloomingdale. The two participants with the longest drives will advance to the District 13 championships at Orlando's Cypress Creek on Aug. 19. The national finals will be held at the Boca Raton Resort on Sept. 14-15. The event will be televised by ESPN.

The 10th hole, a 415-yard par 4, will be used for the competition. There is more than 350 yards of straight fairway with water on either side.

"Last year we ran out of balls," said John Reger, Bloomingdale's director of golf. "People were hitting them in the woods and water."

Golf balls will be available to participants for $5 for three balls. But as Reger says, some players shell out quite a bit of cash.

"We'll have people come in here and blow $200," he said. "There isn't any pre-registration, so we have some people come out that day and start driving."

Unlike most golf events, the driving competition is open to anybody regardless of golfing ability.

"There are no restrictions and you do not have to be a good player," Reger said. "The thing about it is, all you have to do is hit the ball. Last year we had a guy who didn't know how to golf. All he does is work on his drives and that's all you need to able to do for this competition."

Which is one reason why tournament director Sandy Lex is hoping for a bigger and better future.

"What we're looking for is to grow even more in 1992," said Lex, from her office in Lexington, Ky. "We have television coverage at the nationals but would like to have it for the districts. We need to get out there and get more recognition."

Lex said efforts will be made in future years to have a long drive event for females and seniors.

Last year at Bloomingdale, Lakeland's Joe Coursey Jr. had a drive of 361 yards and earned the right to go to districts. There he finished 16th out of 34.

The longest drive recorded during the national competition was turned in by Evan "Big Cat" Williams in 1977 at Pebble Beach in California. His drive was measured at 353 yards.

Summer school: Bloomingdale Golfers Club is also holding a weekend golf school. Although the first session has already been completed, interested players can join anytime. The sessions are every other weekend with the next being June 15-16.

Six players, ranging from ages 25-55, showed up at the first session, and that suits Reger and the golfers just fine.

"We want to keep our classes small so we can have as much individual attention as possible," he said. "We would prefer to keep the maximum at 12 people."

The school, which guarantees five hours of instruction and 36 holes of golf each weekend, will continue with sessions through Sept. 22. For information, call the club at 685-4105.

Steak and golf: Avila Golf & Country Club is set to host the Outback Steakhouse West Central Chapter PGA Championship on July 1-2. Class A golf professionals from clubs in Pinellas, Polk, Pasco and Citrus counties will compete for $15,000 in prize money. The tournament format will be 36-hole individual stroke play. For tournament information, call Dana Saad at 961-1754.