Will Golf's Appeal Stop at Nothing?

First came the male golfers, professionals in their prime whacking a little white ball around a course for thousands and, eventually, millions of dollars in lifetime earnings.

Television bought it. So did the sponsors. And the fans.

Next came the ladies. And soon the best of them were surpassing the million-dollar mark in career winnings.

But the goose still had more golden eggs to lay. Television was interested in more. So were the sponsors and the fans.

Enter seniors golf.

Men like Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Chi Chi Rodriguez, although having already celebrated their 50th birthdays, proved still-marketable athletes. So the Senior PGA Tour was born. The PGA Seniors Championship has been in existence since 1937, but it wasn't until 1980 that a second senior event was added. Total prize money for the two tournaments was $250,000. This year, there will be 35 events for the seniors with prize money totaling $8,700,000.

There's even a new category, the Super Seniors, for those older than 60, with a separate pot of $630,000 for 18 selected senior events.

The Skins Game, which has proven so popular with the regular pros, was added to the seniors schedule this week with a $36,000 event at the Wood Ranch Golf Club in Simi Valley as a prelude to this weekend's GTE tournament. And there are plans for a nationally televised Senior Skins Game next year.

What could possibly be next?

Well if golf's money tree continues to bear unlimited fruit, there's only one more logical extension for all this madness.

Fade in.

Long shot: Sometime in the near future. A close-up of a drawbridge spanning a moat and leading into an empty castle. The camera pulls back to reveal the entire castle. As the camera pulls back farther, a gigantic arm can be seen resting on one of the turrets. Finally, the camera reveals the giant. It's Jack Nicklaus. He is hunched over the castle, which is barely five feet high.

Announcer John Madman: Live from the Pitch and Putt Miniature Golf Course on Pico Boulevard, it's the One Million Dollar Fred's Pico Boulevard Muffler Service Jack Nicklaus Miniature Golf Invitational. Today, Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and Greg Norman will play 18 holes of miniature golf, with the winner receiving a quarter of a million dollars.

Long shot: An aerial view of the miniature golf course and the surrounding batting cages and arcade games.

Cut to four golfers standing and talking in front of a counter while their caddies walk up and pay $3.89 each. In return, they receive a scorecard, a pencil that is no more than a stub with lead on the end and a battered club, held together with masking tape.

Madman: Oh, we got a real controversy now. Palmer wants the green ball. That would leave Nicklaus with the red ball. Nicklaus says he has to have the green one. That's his lucky color. They may have to call the MGA (Miniature Golf Assn.) Commissioner, Billy Barty, in on this one.

Long shot: Eighth hole. Nicklaus approaches his ball (he lost the argument and disgustedly chose orange), which is resting against a cement curb. Ten thousand fans are stretching to watch the action, trampling the trees, rocks, and little wooden fence that surround the hole . Nicklaus' caddie places the little battered club in his hand. Nicklaus walks over, bends down and moves the ball the length of the club away from the curb. That precipitates a new controversy since it places the ball squarely in the hole.

Madman: OK, the commissioner has ruled Nicklaus must stand on the curb and drop the ball over his shoulder. He's doing that now and . . . UNBELIEVABLE, he's dropped it right into the cup.

Madman (in a whisper): With Nicklaus one shot up on Palmer, we come to the dreaded 18th hole: The Clown's Face. How many times have we seen some of the game's legends blow a brilliant round at this historic spot when a shot headed for the clown's open mouth took a disastrous turn and wound up in an ear or an eye or the clown's nose? Who can forget 1991 when Watson's shot bounced off an eyelash and over the fence into the arcade, leaving him an impossible lie under the Pac-Man machine? Or 1989, when Palmer bounced one off the bridge of the nose and over to the 17th hole where it took him two shots to get out from under the windmill?

Close-up: Nicklaus' caddie brushes off the rubber tee that is stuck into a pad of bristles. Now the screen is split into four segments, one showing Nicklaus swinging, the other three focusing in on the possible holes out of which the ball will pop.

Madman (still whispering): No telling which is the right hole. Have tournament officials left the mouth as the spot that will deposit the ball near the cup, or have they switched it to the eyes, ears or nose? If Nicklaus goes for the wrong hole, his ball could wind up on the back side of the clown's head, leaving an impossible chip over the kinky red hair to the cup. It's a $250,000 gamble for Jack Nicklaus.

He swings! The ball is in the trough! It's up the ramp! He's going for the right eye!

Close-up: Split screen. One camera zeros in on the taut face of Nicklaus. The other three still show the holes. Finally, the orange ball appears in the center hole.

Madman: He guessed right! Jack Nicklaus gambled and has won the $250,000, the multicolored clown's suit that has always been proudly worn by the winner of this event AND a free game.

Join us again next week when we journey to the lush fields of Hanford, California, for the Two Million Dollar Jed's Feed and Grain MGA Classic, live from the Hanford Family Fun Center.

Fade out.

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