Long Drivers Hit the Vegas Speedway…

You write what??
Some people may not know that I have Spidey Life where I write articles for a website called iGolf.com.
I’ve been doing that for years. It is fun because I get to write about stuff I really enjoy — golf course architecture and golf equipment / gadgets.

Anyway, this week marked the conclusion of the winner-take-all, Re/Max World Long Drive Championship where $250,000 was at stake. Tim Burke of Orlando, Fla., hit a 427-yard drive on Wednesday night to defeat favorite Joe Miller of London. You can read more about the finals in Vegas here and here. Golf Channel’s press release can be found here.REMAX_Ticket

Below is the story I submitted to iGolf about this event.  Enjoy!

Speed Meets Speed: RE/MAX Long Drivers to hit Vegas Motor Speedway…
By Annie Gladue-Latham
14 October 2013

  • It’s like the annual MLB home run derby without listening to Chris Berman and with more than a Chevy Silverado at stake.
  • It’s like a big-time UFC event without the sometimes gruesome blood, guts and pulverized body parts. And also, without the high gate and PPV fees.
  • It’s like the Par 3, 16th hole at the Phoenix Open (TPC Scottsdale) which is played in a stadium environment in front of 20,000 rowdy fans.

It is the RE/MAX WORLD LONG DRIVE CHAMPIONSHIP, where finalists with swing speeds of close to 150 miles per hour smack a golf ball more than 400 yards. That’s 100 yards longer than an average PGA TOUR professional. And though they tend to use special equipment (see below), the ball and drivers meet USGA specifications. This is an annual event that has taken place each year since 1975 and attracts competitors from all over the world.

In previous years, the championship event was held in Mesquite, Nevada in a specially built venue that measures 60 yards wide and 450 yards long. To put that in perspective, a standard NFL field is 120 yards long by 53 1/3 yards wide. For 2013, the eight finalists (AKA “The October 8”) will be competing for a winner-take-all prize of $250,000 at a new venue: The Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Qualifying rounds were held in Mesquite.

The RE/MAX WORLD LONG DRIVE CHAMPIONSHIP event is the flagship activity of the Long Drivers of America (LDA). Owned and operated by long drive pioneer Art Sellinger, who won the U.S. National Long Drive Title twice (once in 1986 and again in 1991), the LDA specializes in producing long drive events for professionals. This year the LDA is teaming up with the Golf Channel to make October “Long Drive Month” as part of a three-year broadcast partnership deal signed last fall which stripped the event from ESPN where it resided for the last 17 years.


Dubbed "The October 8"

Dubbed “The October 8”

Starting October 9 and continuing for four consecutive Wednesdays in prime-time, the Golf Channel will be focused on showcasing the men and women who compete in long drive, beginning with grassroots local and regional qualifying, and culminating with the RE/MAX WORLD LONG DRIVE CHAMPIONSHIP finals (a live two-hour event).
Along with delving into personal stories of the competitors, the channel will have features on the art of hitting it long.

What’s Happening in Vegas:

The competition will take place under the lights at the speedway in Vegas which has been retrofitted for this event. The finalists will be hitting from a custom-made platform built into the speedway’s grandstands on to a Championship grid on the race track infield below – a grassy landing area cut to standard fairway length. The grid is merely 50-yards wide and accuracy counts.


Grandstand to Grid. Speed Meets Speedway.

Note: To put this in perspective, a typical fairway can be 30-40 yards wide.

According to Sellinger, “This is a tight shot.” He added that great control of swing and emotions are key in this venue.

Golf Channel’s Bob Papa will provide play-by-play, Michael Breed, host of THE GOLF FIX, will offer analysis on the driving grid, and MORNING DRIVE Co-Host Holly Sonders will handle interviews. Sellinger will also be on hand to provide long drive analysis.

The Road to Vegas:

The Long Drivers of America holds local and regional qualifying events. The open division includes professionals and amateurs with no age restrictions. During the Local qualifier the participants can just show up (no pre-registration required), pay the $40 entry fee, which gives them six balls to hit. The number of local entries determines how many advance to the regional finals.

The Regionals are where things get ratcheted up. There is a one-time entry fee of $150. Hitting order is determined by a blind draw onsite immediately following registration.

Regional tournaments can easily last up to nine rounds—an all day affair. So strength, stamina and the ability for focus are keys to success. Just like the Local event, a try consists of six balls / shots.

This year’s regionals started with 192 competitors who dealt with challenging conditions on a wind baked grid in Mesquite, Nevada, the field. The first 3 weeks of the Golf Channel prime time show will focus on the qualifying, elimination and semi-final rounds, so you can see for yourself what’s involved.

The Breakout “October 8”:

From 192, the field was whittled down to “The October 8,” which consists of mostly of 20-somethings with the youngest participant being 22-years old. The oldest is 33-years old. In between are a lot of guys in their mid-twenties. In terms of experience, you’ve got wily veteran Jamie Sadlowski in his seventh go around along with Joe Miller in this fourth followed by Patrick Hopper who is making his third appearance. There are three newbies and two who are here for the second time.

Here are the finalists in alphabetical order:

+ Tim Burke, Orlando, FL
+ Matt Hanger, Anaheim, CA
+ Patrick Hopper, Columbia, SC
+ Will Hogue, Collierville, TN
+ Tyler Kellett, Phoenix, AZ
+ Aaron Mansfield, Washington, PA
+ Joe Miller, London, England (2010 World Champion)
+ Jamie Sadlowski, St. Paul, Alberta, Canada (2008, 2009 World Champion)


Some notables about the competitors:

  • Jamie Sadlowski is trying to catch up to fellow Canadian Jason Zuback’s record 5 world titles. This year his major equipment change from Adams to Callaway may make a difference, as his spin rates in previous years were observably a little above optimum for the conditions. Probably the biggest thing he’s known for is breaking Golf Channel’s simulator with a massive drive that pierced the projection screen and its protective net. He also hit the longest drive ever recorded, 418-yards, when he won in 2008.
  • Joe Miller is trying to capture his 2nd world title. Miller probably has the highest clubhead speed in the finals, having eclipsed 150 mph in previous years.
  • The 33-year old, Tyler Kellett is the 2nd smallest competitor in the final 8. At 6’0″ and 180 lbs., he is slightly bigger than Jamie Sadlowski (5’10”, 175 lbs).
  • Young Aaron Mansfield is known for his tremendous accuracy and beautiful fluid swing which has made him a crowd favorite.
  • Tim Burke, a former baseball pitcher with two College World Series appearances stunned Jamie Sadlowski last year in the semi finals, only to lose to Ryan Winther in the finals.

You can learn more about the October 8 at this link:

The Equipment – Driver:

A whole article can be written about the equipment these long hitters are using.
Drivers are either from Callaway or Krank for the most part. House of Forged has cornered the long driver shaft market with a couple of Fujikura shafts in the mix.krank-formula5-sole copy

  • Krank Golf specializes in custom building golf drivers for regular golfers and for the sport of Long Drive Golf. Every one of their handmade drivers uses 100% Forged Titanium and includes Krank Golf’s exclusive Maximum Energy Transfer (MET) Technology, which simply means their golf drivers store and release energy back to the ball better than any golf driver in the world. The Krank Golf® Formula 5 Driver.
  • Callaway Golf has unveiled a line of long distance drivers. The XHOT Pro LD Driver is the official driver of the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship and is the first adjustable driver optimized for the longest golfers on earth. The XHOT Pro LD Driver head weighs approximately 199 grams and features Speed Frame Face Technology that increases ball speed, saves weight and optimizes stiffness and stress distribution across the face for more efficient energy transfer. It is available in long drive optimized lofts of 5 to 7 degrees. Pricing starts at $199 with shafts running $139 to $199. You can learn more here.

The Equipment – Ball:

Top-Flite® has an exclusive partnership with the Long Drivers of America (LDA) and is the official ball of the RE/MAX WORLD Long Drive Championship. The Top-Flite brand, owned by DICK’S Sporting Goods, has a line-up that includes: Gamer Tour, Gamer, Gamer Yellow, D2+, and XL.

Top-Flite engineers came up with a technology they’ve dubbed Dimple In Dimple™ Aerodynamics, which they say generates the Ideal Flight Trajectory. What that means is when a ball loses spin at the apex of flight and its speed decreases, it can lose lift and knuckleball out of the sky, sacrificing distance. However, Dimple In Dimple™ Aerodynamics helps maintain spin at the apex, delivering maximum distance through superior design rather than hard compression for a wide range of swing speeds.

See the difference...

See the difference…

The Gamer and D2+ lines feature Dimple-in-Dimple. Most likely, it is also part of the XL LD balls which sell for $22.99 (24 balls) at the official LDA website .  By the way, the price is not a typo. Top-Flite balls are amazingly affordable.

Enter the Trackman:

It is one thing to know what the competitors is packing. The bigger question is how the heck are they measuring distances these guys are hitting. Enter the Trackman. It has been named the Official Club and Ball Flight Data technology for Golf Channel telecasts of the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship through 2015. Trackman provides real-time data on club speed, ball speed, spin rates, carry distances, and more, as well in using superimposed 3D graphics to show ball flight and trajectory.

TrackmanFinalsAverages copy

Trackman stats.


When I had a chance to watch the video of Art Sellinger’s press conference  for the event, it crossed my mind that he is very much like Dana White, the president of UFC. Both are well-spoken and passionate about their sports. Both want to get more people involved / engaged. Both have build an amazing ecosystem of products and services that support their sport.

Sellinger’s enthusiasm is truly contagious. When he talks about the “Did you sees” of the Vegas event, the guy is bubbling over. This isn’t showmanship to move tickets and PPV like other Vegas-based events. In fact, there is no charge to be on-site viewing the finals at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway – truly lowering the barrier of entry to fans. “Come see these athletes!” he exclaimed.

Note: The free tickets must be downloaded ahead of time. At the gate the fee is $40.

While talking up the event, he had a list of “Did You See” items:

Did you see…

> where those guys were hitting that ball on the Speedway
> 400-yard drives in the air
> where that guy won a quarter of a million dollars on that last match head-to-head, mano-y-mano.

It’s a different sport entirely from golf as presented by the Golf Channel each and every day. And Sellinger respects the tradition of golf so much that he is willing to bring the RE/MAX WORLD LONG DRIVE CHAMPIONSHIP to an entirely unexpected venue – a motor speedway.

Sellinger has created a great cross-over event that may garner a new interest in golf itself. But for sure, as people jump on new ways of being physical and challenging themselves – like Crossfit and mixed martial arts – they may start clamoring for some good old fashion, grip and rip driving. Any time you get people away from the desk or couch, it is a good thing. If anyone can figure out how to mainstream long driving, its Sellinger.


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