Plenty Of Fun, Frolic In Store For Outback Pro-Am
LUTZ - With the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am, Tampa's annual Champions Tour visit, scheduled for April 17-19 at TPC Tampa Bay, Monday's gathering at the tournament course was something of an appetizer before the main course. With NBC golf analyst and tournament host Gary Koch serving as master of ceremonies, Champions Tour players Scott Hoch, Brad Bryant and Walter Hall were joined by amateur competitors Vinny Testaverde and Ronde Barber for a panel discussion. The conversation held true to the tournament's theme of fun and frolic. When Testaverde, the veteran NFL quarterback was asked what coach had taught him the most, Hoch interrupted to point out that the former Buc, Brown, Raven, Jet, Cowboy, Patriot and Panther had too many to choose from.When Bryant was asked to name an all-time foursome he would like to be a part of, he started with Winston Churchill before Koch wanted to know, "Why Winston Churchill?" Answered Bryant: "Because he was Winston Churchill." The professional-celebrity/amateur format, unique on the Champions Tour, will be celebrating its fifth season next month. The format was adopted at the insistence of Outback CEO Chris Sullivan, despite a lukewarm reception by tour headquarters. Now, the tournament is one of the few non-senior majors broadcast on network television (NBC), and this year will have a celebrity field that includes actor Michael J. Fox and athletes such as Emmitt Smith, Jerry Rice, Testaverde and Barber. "To think of where we've come in five years - looking like we could be losing the tournament to now having, to me, the most exciting event on the Champions Tour," Koch said. "It was not very well accepted initially by the tour. They didn't like the idea because it was different. Now, if the tour had its way, they'd wish for 10 more like it because it creates interest." The event also funds local charities. This year's beneficiaries will be Child Abuse Council, Diabetic Charitable Services, Everyday Blessings and Judeo Christian Health Clinic. In the past three years, the tournament has presented more than $5 million to Tampa Bay charities. "I think the first year we had a lot to prove," tournament director Amy Hawk said. "There were a lot of skeptics as to whether we could keep pace of play, is it going to be a circus? We worked really hard to keep the integrity of the event first and foremost when putting it together - making sure the amateurs know what they are doing and that it is a serious golf tournament that just happens to have a fun element to it."
Reporter Mick Elliott can be reached at (813) 281-2534.