Golf Writer Andy Reistetter continues his exclusive "Play-Write" series with a weekend visit to Perdido Bay Golf Resort in Pensacola, Florida. The likes of Curtis Strange, Jerry Pate and Calvin Peete have won at Perdido Bay when it hosted the PGA TOUR's Pensacola Open. Mark Naes, a former Nationwide Tournament Director for the PGA TOUR, has returned home to create the Southeast Collegiate Golf Tour (SECT). The Hardee's Players Championship takes place at Perdido Bay beginning August 5th. Join Reistetter and be introduced to Mark Naes, Perdido Bay and the SECT.
I first met Mark Naes over the Labor Day weekend during last year's American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) Junior PLAYERS Championship. Bill Hughes, the General Manager of TPC Sawgrass, also Home of the professional PLAYERS Championship made the introduction. When W.W. Hughes makes an introduction, smart people follow up.
I was invited by Mark to come and experience Perdido Bay Golf Resort for myself. I did and connected with the people, the golf course and the simple golfing ambiance of Perdido Bay. With overnight accommodations at the Cottages On the Green, the visit reminded me of staying in the Jones Villa at Nicklaus' Muirfield Village. Having only a few steps to the practice tee and first tee and never having to leave the property makes a golfing weekend extraordinary.
Naes retired a few years ago and went back home to Pensacola after being gone for 30 years. He left the day after high school to play golf at Houston Baptist College. In addition to running tournaments for the tour, he owned a lighted par-3 course and driving range in St. Louis.
Why promote junior and collegiate golf tournaments? Mark will tell you as he did me that "the adults that got involved in my life at a young age because of golf helped mold me to where I am today and I am very thankful for that process. Now it is important to me to give back to kids."
Surprisingly one of those adults was none other than Gary Player, the Black Knight who won 24 times on the PGA TOUR, including nine majors. How does a kid from Pensacola meet and get to know a professional golfer from South Africa? The Pensacola Open at Perdido Bay is how.
His dad was a big Player fan and organized the "Gary's Gang" cheering section. Player came over to thank him, and in the ensuing conversation, was invited to stay with the family which he accepted for the next five years. Mark was 10 years old at the time and likes to tell the story that "my very first golf lesson and my very first set of clubs all came from Gary Player."
Looking back, Naes says with the confidence of knowing for sure that "golf changed my life." As a 10-year-old boy, he would watch the workout routine of his role model, see him do pushups, eat healthy and "be in bed by 9 p.m."
Now, looking forward in the lives of young golfers, he sees a void in golf and wants to fill the gap between junior golf and collegiate golf, especially for the golfers who don't qualify for the top-tier amateur events like the U.S. Amateur. Simply put, so "there's a place for all kids in golf."
Naes found four founding sponsors—Hardee's, Gorilla Design, J. Lindeberg and Peak Nutrition. Perdido Bay is the perfect place to host a tournament with comfortable housing onsite, superb practice facilities and a timeless Bill Amick design that stretches out to over 7,000 yards. The friendly people supporting the tournament make it a memorable experience for the players with special touches like announcing players on the first tee and approaching the 18th green.
The Cottages On the Green and Perdido Bay Golf Resort have a revered place in golf trivia. The scene in the movie Tin Cup with the golf shot that knocked the pelican off its perch was reportedly based on a real incident involving Gary McCord that happened during a rain delay in a Pensacola Open.
In 2012 the SECT will consist of two tournaments—the Hardee's Players in August and the Hardee's Holiday Classic in late December—but in 2013, it will grow to six tournaments including one at TPC Sawgrass on Dye's Valley Course and TPC Louisiana.
In addition to the collegiate competitions, Naes coordinates junior tournaments including the Hardee's National Junior Classic at Perdido Bay in early January. Always thinking of the progression of golfers from junior to college and beyond, Naes has the juniors caddie for the college golfers in late December and then play the same course setup a week later to test their skills and have some good comparative data for college coaches.
Perdido Bay, Mark Neas and the new Southeastern Collegiate Golf Tour promoting the game of golf and giving back in the truest sense. Play well this week!
Andy Reistetter is a freelance golf writer as well as a Spotter, Research and Broadcast Assistant for The Golf Channel, NBC and CBS Sports. He spends time on all four major American golf tours- the PGA TOUR, Champions, Nationwide and LPGA Tours.
Reistetter resides within two miles of the PGA TOUR headquarters and the home of The PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach.
A lifetime golfer, Andy enjoys volunteering at the World Golf Hall of Fame and THE PLAYERS while pursuing his passion for the game of golf and everything associated with it.
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Contact Reistetter by e-mail at AndyReistetter@gmail.com