Entourage Golf - Deal or No Deal?

By: JJ Gowland

The business of this game has become a bit strange. Golf is no longer a sport for the individual. A golfer hardly ever plays alone. Golf has become an entourage sport.

Professional Entourage Golf is different from the single golfer's average trip to the golf course.

A golfer at the PGA Tour level plays the ultimate Entourage Golf.

No longer is he bunking in cheap motel rooms with two or three other rookies, sharing the cost of travel in a battered old station wagon, racing across country to the next tee time. No longer is he sleeping in the backseat of a beat up old Chevy in the parking lot of the course of the week. Now participating at the top level, he's seldom alone on the practice range or hitting scruffy used and abused yellow range balls. No longer is the PGA professional ironing his own pants; although, reportedly, last year, one of the PGA rookies was spotted in a coin laundry, alone.

At the PGA Tour level, the player is rarely alone. Some professionals travel by private jet, accompanied by a wife or girlfriend, child or impending child, Mom, Dad, swing coach, putting coach, mental coach and caddie.

The tournament auto sponsor meets the player and his group at the airport, and provides a car or a chauffeur-driven ride to that week's accommodations. On game day, if the pro wants to arrive at the course earlier than his wife and child, the family receives a vehicle or escorted transportation to the course.

Organizers provide separate space for players meals, physiotherapy, tents for wives/girlfriends, and a children's play/nap area. The mental coach's corner needs to be furnished. If a golfer's putting and/or swing coach requires a specific time and place, designated practice space on the putting green and range is made available. A vanguard of uniformed officers escorts the pro to his next on-course destination. Some spouses need a personal guide to the current location of their mates.

If the player is traveling with an entourage, someone has to pay for accommodations, off-course food, laundry, coaches, and caddie fees. The professional golfer must pay for and support these superfluities to his game. He is no longer playing to win a trophy and gas money. Now he is playing with and for his entourage. He is playing Entourage Golf.

PGA Tour organizers provide these accoutrements because some golfers have refused to show up unless these services are present. In the TV and film business, stars request similar embellishments and producers provide them.

This leads me to confess that I applied to be a contestant on the NBC game show, "Deal or No Deal," which was to be taped in Toronto in January. Eligibility heavily relies on my providing supporters, an on-camera coach, an on-site coach, an on-call advisor and a group of photogenic persons who I must transport to and from my audition. I had to have an entourage.

And that brings me back to Entourage Golf and the single non-professional's experience.

Recently, I was a "walk-on" at a semiprivate course in Florida. This live-golf residential community has a multi-million-dollar clubhouse and a championship-caliber golf layout, which meanders through the neighborhood of homes that sell for a minimum of $400,000. Obviously, this is not Trailer Park Fairways. The mid-December (off-season) golfing fee at $60, which included cart fees, was reasonable.

Scheduled to join a threesome for a shotgun-start tee time, I unloaded my bag from the trunk of my car and it was loaded onto a marshal's cart. I was chauffeured out to the practice range near the first tee. Because I arrived an hour early, I was alone on the range and the practice green. The course provided well-used yellow range balls. I was not given a golf cart.

When my playing partners arrived, and after the starter advised me on which cart I'd be riding, I hoisted my bag onto the indicated vehicle. Alex, a resident, was my driver/playing partner. It was Alex's privately owned golf cart.

Even though I brought my own water bottle, Alex retrieved a large cup of ice and drinking water for me. Because of potential lawsuits over polluted drinking water, the course management won't provide on-course drinking water. However, water outlets are available, free of charge, paid for and provided by the golfing residents.

During the round I mentioned to Alex that I thought since I was riding on his privately owned golf cart it seemed a bit strange for the pro shop to charge "cart fees." I asked him if I should request a refund from the pro shop and pay him the cart fee. Although Alex owns, maintains and powers up his own electric golf cart, he calmly told me that his green fees include cart fees.

I thought it was unfair of the pro shop to collect cart fees until Alex's cart ran out of power. One of our partners cell-phoned the pro shop and asked if the pro had a cart that he could bring out for us to finish our last four holes. Almost immediately, the pro delivered a golf cart.

As twilight darkened, while my partners pushed Alex's previously abandoned, powerless and privately owned cart home, alone in the parking lot, I hoisted my golf bag into the trunk of my car. I felt like a grassroots Tour rookie.

In retrospect, it seems that I had a one-day entourage which included; ball spotters, rake retrievers, skilled sand-rakers, water-ball scoopers, refreshment providers, a communications specialist, and the group peripherally included an on-call professional with a replacement "caddie." Reciprocally, I was a member of each player's entourage.

I doubt that my one-day entourage wants to leave sunny warm Florida to visit frostbitten and snow-covered Toronto, Ontario, in January to be my entourage on the show "Deal or No Deal." I, however, would gladly return to Florida to be part of any golfer's entourage.

My entourage was terrific and, compared to the cost of PGA Entourage Golf, cheap.

Jill J. Gowland has a BA in psychology from McMaster University in Hamilton Ontario, and worked as a psychiatric clinician for five years. Following that she did a 10-year stint in sales and then worked as a marketing manager in the high-tech software and the security/access-control industries.

Before attending university, J.J. served tables in a golf course coffee shop and has been an avid golfer for more than three decades. Jill has been associated with the golf business as a director and shareholder of a privately owned golf course for more than 20 years. Jill studied comedy at Second City, Toronto, has written and directed stage plays, taught improv comedy, is a published poet. She has blogs on www.SandbaggersAnonymous.blogspot.com, has written for Ontario Golf Magazine, and is a golf novelist. Jill lives with a fluctuating handicap in Oakville, Ontario, Canada.

Her latest book, "Confessions of a Sandbagger," (ISBN 1-4137-5527-4), a trade paperback, was released in December 2004 and is available world-wide and directly from the author. For ordering information, visit www.publishedauthors.net/jjgowland. Also, see Bob Spiwak's review of "Confessions of a Sandbagger" at http://www.cybergolf.com/bookreview/index.asp?newsID=3903.