04/20/2006 11:00PM

Amateur golfers get shot to play for $2M prize


Golf is one of the best games going for betting. I don't mean betting in a sports book on Tiger Woods at 3-1 odds to win the British Open, or something like that.

I mean playing a round of golf and betting amongst your foursome and friends. If you're a golfer and like making a side bet or two, you will recall sweating over a five-foot "knee-knocker" putt with $50 or $100 on the line.

Well, the organizers of The Ultimate Game want to put you in a position of making that five-foot putt for a first prize worth $2 million. That's right, a two followed by six zeroes.

With that much money on the line, it's a natural for Las Vegas. So it's no surprise that the event is tentatively scheduled here in 2007.

The Ultimate Game is a match play and stroke play tournament set for Wynn Las Vegas Golf Course and Country Club for June 6-8, 2007. It's open to all golfers except those carrying a card for the PGA Tour, Nationwide Tour, Champions Tour, and the PGA European Tour.

Notice that the LPGA tour is not on the list. The organizers, former NFL quarterback Steve Bartkowski and Jim Thomas, would love to see an Annika Sorenstam- or Michelle Wie-caliber player in The Ultimate Game. The LPGA would need to sanction the tournament so its players wouldn't risk losing their LPGA eligibility.

Bartkowski and Thomas organized the predecessor to The Ultimate Game, the Big Stakes Match Play. That was played last year at CasaBlanca Golf Club in Mesquite, Nev. That event featured two-man teams who paid a $100,000 entry fee.

Match Play was won by two former All-American college golfers, David Ping, who played at Michigan, and Garth Mulroy, who played at North Carolina State. According to the Detroit Free Press, their $100,000 entry fee was put up by NFL players Barry Stokes and Ross Verba.

The goal in The Ultimate Game is to get 160 players each paying a $50,000 entry fee, thus creating the largest payday in the history of golf. Organizers hope to contract with a major network for television rights. In that vein, they already hired an executive producer in Terry Jastrow, who has won seven Emmy awards for sports broadcasting.

To even consider playing in The Ultimate Game, you better be a scratch golfer, plus have the financial resources to be able to afford losing $50,000 in a few hours of golf. Even for the best players, it's almost as easy to shoot four over par as it is to shoot four under par. Sometimes you're just at the whims of the golf gods.

If you're interested in keeping tabs on the event, go to www.bigstakesgolf.com for continuous updates.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and author of "Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies."