Racing News


by Mike Henry

Appearances by actor Christopher McDonald (also known as Shooter McGavin in the blockbuster movie, Happy Gilmore) and three-time PGA Tour winner Chris DiMarco, along with a $1-million Hole-in-One Contest, are among the highlights of the sixth annual Golfest Presented by Valspar Championship, to be held Saturday and Sunday at The Downs Golf Practice Facility at Tampa Bay Downs.

Golfers of all ages and ability levels, as well as anyone eager to be introduced to the sport, will find much to strike their fancy at the Tampa Bay area’s largest golf expo and demo-day event. Golfest Presented by Valspar Championship hours are from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday and from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on Sunday.

Admission is $10, with children 14-and-under getting in free. There is no charge for parking.

“Variety is the byword of this year’s Golfest,” said Facility Manager and Class A PGA Professional Jon Johnson. “In addition to our Celebrity Golf Skills Challenge III and the Hole-in-One Contest, golfers can test the newest equipment from most of the major club manufacturers, participate in numerous activities in our enlarged Kids and Family Zone and visit 15 golf lifestyle booths.

“We are also introducing a silent auction with dozens of items, including two tickets to the first 2016 major tournament in Georgia, and the ‘long-ball launcher,’ offering prizes to anyone hitting the bulls-eye,” Johnson said. “There will also be a Michelob Ultra Beer Garden pavilion and plenty of great food, giving all our attendees a chance to enjoy two full days of fun while exploring what the industry has to offer.”

McDonald and DiMarco will team in Saturday's Celebrity Golf Skills Challenge III, which begins at 1:15 p.m. The event features such “Big Break” Style contests as “Break the Glass,” “Closest to the Pin,” “Flop Shot Over a Wall” and “Longest Drive.”

They will compete against the two-time defending champions, WTSP-TV’s Reginald Roundtree and Dave Wirth; long-drive champion Mike Ziegler and retired Navy SEAL Scotty Norton; former Tampa Bay Rays pitchers Andy Sonnanstine and Dan Wheeler; former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Corey Ivy and a teammate to be determined, and one or two other teams.

McDonald and DiMarco will also appear on the Golfest Stage, which offers a wide range of entertainment, instruction and demonstrations from some of the top names in golf beginning at 10 a.m. on both days.

The $1-million Hole-in-One Contest gets underway with qualifying throughout Saturday and Sunday morning. Anyone landing a 155-yard shot within a 60-foot diameter circle will advance to the semifinals, in which the individual closest to the pin will qualify for one shot from 165 yards for a chance at the grand prize, which would be paid out over 40 years.

One shot at qualifying costs $3, with three shots for $5 and seven shots for $10. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the North Florida PGA Foundation, Thanks Troops – Tampa and the Special Operations Warrior Foundation.

Those charities will also benefit from the Golfest ’16 Silent Auction, which features more than 30 donated prizes worth in excess of $6,000. In addition to tickets to golf’s first 2016 major, prizes include tickets to the Valspar Championship Presented by BB&T and the Arnold Palmer Bay Hill Invitational; tickets to a Tampa Bay Lightning game; a day for four at Tampa Bay Downs, including lunch; rounds of golf for four at various area courses; and numerous other items.

Golfest Presented by Valspar Championship will also conduct a $10,000 Putting Contest, with proceeds benefiting the golf program at Sickles High School in Tampa.

Johnson, who just returned from the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, said players will have the opportunity to be the first to test equipment from such industry leaders as Callaway, TaylorMade and Ping. “A lot of these clubs were just announced (Wednesday), so this will be the first place to try them,” he said.

Other companies that will be represented include Wilson, Mizuno, Tour Edge, Cobra, Sterling England, U.S. Kids and Naples Bay.

The expanded U.S. Kids Golf Family Fun Zone will feature Dino the Gorilla, chipping, nine holes of miniature golf, golf shuffleboard, golf cornhole, slapshot hockey golf and the “long-ball launcher.”

Adults purchasing a Golfest admission ticket will receive a goody bag with various bargain coupons and discounts, including a certificate for a free medium-size bucket at The Downs Golf Practice Facility range. For details, call (813) 854-4946.  

The PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship Presented by BB&T will be conducted the week of March 6-13 on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, with the tournament proper Thursday through Sunday, March 10-13.