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Lake Jovita man prepares to launch national golf league

Thomas Brennan spent seven years as a state supreme court justice in Michigan and 30 more founding and presiding over Thomas Cooley Law School in Lansing, Mich., now the third-largest law school in the country.

After retiring to Lake Jovita, a different kind of injustice occupies his time.

In an ad that will begin running in Golfweek next week, Brennan asks a question: Why is Alex Rodriguez's salary five times greater than Tiger Woods'?

"Team sports are more lucrative," Brennan said, "because team sports are more popular."

With that in mind, Brennan founded the American Golf League, a national pro circuit that could begin play in 2003. Brennan said he will run the league from his small office in downtown Dade City.

Golf is played as a team sport in high school and college, and more prominently every two years with the Ryder Cup, but Brennan sees an untapped market in pro teams. These, Brennan said, will be franchises that will never demand new stadiums.

In Brennan's format for league play, two teams of nine players would compete on nine holes with a shotgun start. A team gets a point when a player wins a hole _ halved holes are tossed out _ creating an event that takes about as long as a baseball game, with as much scoring as basketball.

To test the format, Brennan held an exhibition March 4 at Lake Jovita Golf and Country Club, featuring teams representing Lake Jovita and Glen Lakes Country Club. Jovita won 67-38 and the format was deemed a success by participants.

"The format's great _ I liked it, and all the guys did," said Weeki Wachee's Jim Canham, a retired circuit court judge from Michigan who organized the Glen Lakes team. "Match golf is always the best golf, and you see the interest pick up whenever the Ryder Cup comes around."

Brennan knew little of the area when he first looked into retiring here _ his daughter attended Saint Leo University and he read about the Lake Jovita development while on a summer golf trip to the Westin Innisbrook Resort in Tarpon Springs.

The AGL already has rosters for four teams in its North division and had an inaugural match scheduled for last September before the World Trade Center attacks forced a cancellation. Brennan has uniforms in his closet but said the league won't begin play until 2003, using this year to set up the logistics and fill rosters through qualifying tournaments.

Brennan has tentatively assigned franchises in 16 of the country's largest metropolitan areas. The Chicago Shooters, Cleveland Wedges, Detroit Drivers and Minnesota Maulers will play in the North Division; Baltimore Birdies, Boston Tees, New York Niblicks and Philadelphia Flags in the East; Atlanta Aces, Dallas Divots, Houston Hustlers and Miami Mashies in the South; and Los Angeles Eagles, San Diego Sandies, San Francisco Swingers and Seattle Chips in the West.

Because the schedule would create conflicts for club pros, Brennan envisions most of the league's golfers to be from smaller professional circuits such as the Tour.

"I think the level of play will be excellent," Brennan said, pointing to Cleveland's Matt Sharkey, who shot 67 in a PGA sectional tournament last year.