November 11, 2009–Nine of the biggest names in golf recently descended on Las Vegas golf course Rio Secco Golf Club to play against each other in the Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge, plus share some of their best golf tips and stories. Fred Couples revealed where he aims (or if he does). Las Vegas golfers Natalie Gulbis and Butch Harmon shared tips for tee shots. And 2009 British Open Champ Stewart Cink shared his love for visiting and playing golf in Las Vegas, and how best to get up and down from around the green.
The Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge has been played in the Las Vegas Golf Region since 1996, when the PGA Tour team of Fred Couples, Payne Stewart and Davis Love III earned a victory over the LPGA Tour and the Senior Tour, as it was called back then before being re-named, appropriately, the Champions Tour. And the 2009 version of the event was recently played for the second time at Las Vegas golf course Rio Secco Golf Club, bringing nine world class golfers to Las Vegas. Read on for a behind-the-scenes look at all of the Las Vegas golf events including an interview with Stewart Cink, pearls of wisdom from Las Vegas' Butch Harmon, and interaction with Natalie Gulbis and Fred Couples.
What the nation sees on ABC television December 19-20 is merely a part of the entire Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge experience for the pros and amateurs who spend time on the golf course to benefit the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. The late Thomas was the founder of Wendy's and was adopted so he spent much of his adult life trying to make things better for the thousands of children who find themselves in foster care. In 2009, the following professionals turned out to play and raise dollars and awareness for the cause: the PGA Tour team was 2009 Open Championship winner Stewart Cink, Bubba Watson, and U.S. Presidents Cup Captain Fred Couples; the Champions Tour was 2009 U.S. Senior Open Champion Fred Funk, Nick Price and Jay Haas; and the LPGA Tour was represented by U.S. Solheim Cup teammates Natalie Gulbis (who lives in Las Vegas) and Christie Kerr, and European Solheim Cup member Suzann Petterson. The final results are available, but we won't spoil the excitement of watching it on television in about a month.
The Las Vegas area is home to more than 50 world class Las Vegas golf courses designed by the biggest names in the world of golf, including two by Rees Jones, which were both shown off during the Wendy's 3-Tour event. Both Rio Secco Golf Club, the official home of the Wendy's, and the award-winning Cascata, were designed by Jones, and each is operated by Harrah's Entertainment. Cascata was the site for several of the amateur events that surrounded the Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge as was Rio Secco, before the nine pros played the course in the made-for-television format on the final day.
Click now for more information or to reserve your official Las Vegas golf tee times and Las Vegas golf packages at the resort Rio Secco Golf Club and Cascata. Also, you can secure a special Las Vegas golf deal for only $239 that includes a round at Rio Secco and Las Vegas National Golf Club, one of the most historic Las Vegas golf courses. Rio Secco Golf Club is also home to the world-famous T-Mates, the beautiful female caddies that were on display and helping during the weekend. Click now for the official T-Mates video.
The evening prior to the official pro-am round was the time for the official pairing party, where several of the participants took part in a panel question and answer session at Caesars Palace, the host hotel. Moderator Scott Walker, from The Golf Channel, asked several questions as did the audience. The funniest moment came when Watson, a terrific young player who hasn't won on the PGA Tour yet, said that he would claim the Wendy's event as his first official win should his team come through and help that happen. Watson, who is known as one of the longest hitters in golf, also said that once he wins, he will try to hit the ball even farther than he does currently, bringing chuckles from the crowd and his fellow competitors. The following day, the nine competitors were joined by other professionals including Las Vegas' Dean Wilson plus ABC commentator Andy North, among others, for the pro-am at Rio Secco.
Some breaking news also came out of the evening when Funk mentioned that immediately following the event he will undergo a complete knee replacement on his right leg. The knee has given him trouble for several years. Funk also said he was amazed that he could win this year's U.S. Senior Open considering the difficulty he has been having with the knee. Funk was bothered by the knee at last year's Wendy's but helped earn the Champions Tour team the win, along with Price and Haas who were back to defend that title.
Following the pro-am the next day, the Butch Harmon School of Golf, located at Las Vegas' Rio Secco, was the site for several tapings of the Golf Fix with Michael Breed (check The Golf Channel for the times of the shows). Breed worked with several of the pros and Harmon, who has lived in Las Vegas for more than a decade and operates his school where the best in the world descend to learn the game. Among the golfers who learn from Harmon at the school are Ernie Ele, Phil Mickelson, Nick Watney, Cink and Gulbis. Harmon as usual, stole the show, first helping an amateur named Julian Dugas hit a perfect drive, and then watching, incredulously, as Couples admitted to the national television audience that he doesn't aim at anything. Harmon then ended a segment with a tip of a lifetime. Harmon, channeling his best Billy Maze character, "guaranteed" the best way to hit the ball longer: "Just move up one set of tees!" quipped Harmon, causing the gallery to laugh after being duped into thinking they were about to be enlightened by an actual tip about how to hit it longer. PHOTO: MARTINPHOTOGROUP.com
Harmon is a true showman and there is a reason why he has been voted the "Best Instructor in Golf" for 10 years running in a poll of his peers published by Golf Digest. But one of the biggest secrets in golf is that any golfer can come to the Butch Harmon School of Golf and learn the same secrets that Harmon teaches to the world's best players. Click now for the official Harmon School website to reserve your upcoming golf school. The schools include one-on-one time with Harmon in addition to group settings, plus lunch with Harmon and his pros, when stories about the greats are told.
Harmon and Breed also watched as Gulbis discussed her driving technique, flushing several long drives towards the large blowup of a Wendy's Frosty on the Rio Secco range, and as Price, the 3-time major champion, delicately executed several perfect pitches and chips to difficultly-placed pins. Price also appeared impressed with his efforts, and told the crowd that he changes clubs to execute different short shots, depending on the loft he needs for each shot. Then Cink, who recently brought the Claret Jug to Las Vegas, showed off his talents around the green, telling Breed, Harmon, the gallery and the television audience that he uses his putter grip on short shots and the only way to ensure reliability in the short game is "to get the ball acting like a putt as soon as possible."
Cink also spent a little time with Golf Las Vegas Now, discussing his relationship with Harmon and his thoughts on Rio Secco Golf Club. "Butch and I have worked together for right around seven years now, and he has been a big help," said Cink. "I came to Butch in 2002 because he had a lot of credibility, and when he gave me the opportunity to come out here I jumped on that chance. By working with him I have gotten a lot longer, and I think my performance has gotten a lot better. The thing I like about Butch is that he simplifies everything and tries not to teach too many things at once. We have been working on the same things for seven years. I know it sounds boring but once you identify a flaw you have to continue to work on it." PHOTO: MARTINPHOTOGROUP.com
Cink said he and Harmon have been working on "keeping everything wide and not letting the club collapse at the top of the swing". He also said that he loves coming to Las Vegas and the school to get down to business. "I like working here more than anywhere else because I can completely clear my mind out and I feel like when I work here things really come together," said Cink. "I would much rather work here and I come out here three or four times a year just to do that."
Cink also enjoys the challenges that the Rio Secco course provides, both during the Wendy's event and on the occasion he plays it when training with Harmon. "It's a true desert course and you have target fairways and desert all over the place, plus an interesting set of greens," said Cink. "And there are a lot of ups and downs on the shots and deep bunkers, but you can shoot a low score here if you control your ball well. But if you start getting off, you will find the desert, and it's also hard to recover from around the greens. It's a good test of golf and it definitely rewards good play."
Perfect Las Vegas golf November weather greeted all of the amateur and professionals throughout the event, and the official competition day was no different. All nine players warmed up at the left end of the Rio Secco range under the watchful eye of Harmon, North, and the gallery, with many focused on the friendly Couples and local-lady Gulbis. Gulbis, as is her habit, stopped to sign autographs for all seekers both on the way to the driving range and to the first tee. Gulbis has lived in Las Vegas for several years, and is often seen honing her skills at the Harmon School. Harmon pro Matt Kilgariff served as her caddie during the round, and also assists with her swing at times along with Harmon. And with that Gulbis was off in the first group, and the 2009 Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge was off and running. All for a good cause and in the perfect Las Vegas golf setting.–Founding Editor, Brian Hurlburt.