by Mike Henry

The late Arnold Palmer once described golf as “deceptively simple and endlessly complicated.” And as anyone who has broken 70 or 100 for the first time would agree, the game’s simplicity and complexity keep them coming back.

Golfers at all levels of ability and passion can resume their efforts to improve during the seventh annual Golfest demo days and golf expo event, scheduled Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 18-19 at The Downs Golf Practice Facility just south of Tampa Bay Downs racetrack.

Golfest hours are from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $10 and children 14-and-under get in free. The entry fee entitles patrons to 10 percent off any merchandise purchased at the event (with the exception of Ping golf equipment), and each attendee can redeem their ticket for a small bucket of range balls and free daily admission to Tampa Bay Downs.

“We’re expecting our best Golfest ever,” said Jon Johnson, Manager of The Downs Golf Practice Facility. “From the opportunity to test and buy the latest clubs from the top manufacturers, to the ‘Great Tampa Teach-In,’ featuring nationally known speakers and top local PGA professionals, to the popular U.S. Kids Golf Family Fun Zone, there is plenty to excite every golfer from the beginner to the scratch player.”

Most of the major equipment manufacturers will be represented, but golfers might have to stand in line to test-drive Callaway’s Great Big Bertha Epic Sub Zero Driver. Described as “a powerful, low-spinning Tour-level driver that’s also incredibly forgiving,” Callaway officials are optimistic those qualities will find the drivers homes in the bags of countless amateurs.

Club-fitters will be on hand to help golfers find the GBB Epic Sub Zero, or an offering from another company, with the correct specifications for their game.

In an effort to encourage players to get serious about upgrading, Golfest is teaming with an equipment appraisal company that will value and purchase used clubs. Anyone choosing to sell their old sticks will receive a voucher for the appraised amount that can be used to purchase merchandise throughout the weekend (players can also donate their used equipment to The First Tee of Tampa Bay).

The Main Stage will be thrumming both days with words of wisdom and humor from many of the sport’s top instructors and specialists. Among those scheduled to speak are renowned putting instructor Mike Shannon from the Sea Island Golf Performance Center in St. Simons Island, Ga.; top mental conditioning coach Dr. Bob Winters from Orlando; Bill Presse, the inventor of the Directed Force putter, which is designed to make it easier to square up the face; long-drive champion Mike Zeigler; and golf entertainer Brad Denton, known for his comedic routines, trick shots and character impersonations.

In addition to the demo opportunities and Main Stage events, a silent auction will be held both days, with proceeds benefiting the Special Operations Warrior Foundation and the Tampa Sickles High School golf programs.

Items to be bid on include golf and sports memorabilia, free rounds of golf, lessons, equipment, gift cards and gift baskets.

New to Golfest is the introduction of the Paradise Golf Craft Beer Experience, enabling visitors to sample some of the area’s tastiest creations.

The U.S. Kids Golf Family Fun Zone, with a miniature golf experience certain to provide delight and special memories, gives the younger set an opportunity to enjoy the game without any pressure to excel. Games, group activities and free giveaways will be offered.

Putting and chipping lessons and free 15-minute swing lessons will be available throughout.

“It might be February,” Johnson said, “but it is never too late to make a resolution to improve your game. Our goal at Golfest is to get players pointed in the right direction and remind them how much fun it is to play with their family and friends.”