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These big names in world long drive getting behind amateur event on the Grand Strand

Dave ‘Wheels’ Sawtell of Australia competed in the ParaLong Drive Cup at Legend's Golf Resort last August, which was held as part of the inaugural Amateur Long Drive World Championship.
Dave ‘Wheels’ Sawtell of Australia competed in the ParaLong Drive Cup at Legend's Golf Resort last August, which was held as part of the inaugural Amateur Long Drive World Championship. jlee@thesunnews.com

The Amateur Long Drive World Championship is gaining steam in its second year as some of the heavy hitters in the long drive sport are getting involved in the event and its promotion.

Three-time Re/MAX world champion Sean “The Beast” Fister, reigning World Long Drive Masters Division champion Jeff Crittenden, and renowned long drive coach and clubmaker Bobby Peterson are all pitching in to help the event’s organizers make the second event bigger and better.

The championship will be held at Barefoot Resort’s driving range from Aug. 16-18, with the finals under the lights from 8-9 p.m. Aug. 18 and televised live locally on WWMB CW 21.

All three professional long drive legends are Carolinas residents, as Fister operates Fister Golf based in Charleston, Crittenden has Critter Power Golf and is the owner and director of instruction at the North Carolina Golf Academy & Range in Greensboro, N.C., and Peterson’s business is based in North Carolina.

“Long drive has been really, really good to me, so if there is anything I can give back, I will. This 12-year run I’m on has been really fun,” Crittenden said. “Anything to help the sport, and I can’t think of anything better than amateur long drive.

“If we can get people to watch it then we can get more sponsors and maybe I can do this for a couple more years. If we get a couple pros out of this that would be awesome. The more people the better in our sport.”

Fister and Crittenden are expected to attend the championship and provide commentary for the broadcast along with announcers Brian Stefan and Paige Cribb. The competition will also be live streamed at amateurlongdrive.com.

Fister attended a qualifier at Mount Pleasant and Crittenden was scheduled to attend a qualifier in Greensboro that was postponed due to weather.

“People know about them,” Amateur Long Drive World Championship operations director Jason Dores said. “When you have Sean and Jeff as ambassadors they know you’re legit. We’re excited about the hype it’s getting.”

The inaugural event was held at Legends Golf Resort last August and attracted more than 100 competitors from five foreign countries and multiple states. Many were part of the ParaLong Drive Cup for competitors with disabilities that was part of the event.

The ParaLong has moved to Mesquite, Nev., but multiple Adaptive Golf divisions have been added to this year’s championship to continue to cater to participants with disabilities.

Divisions are Boys Youth (12 and under), Girls Youth, Boys Junior (13-17), Girls Junior, Open for 18 and up, Female Open, Men’s Senior (50-64), Women’s Senior, Super Senior (65 and older), Veterans, and Adaptive.

Three finalists will consist of the Open, Adaptive and Veterans winners.

“The caliber hitter we’ll have at this year’s worlds will beat the brakes off what we had last year,” Dores said. “338 yards won last year, and that’s not even going to come close this year. Every qualifier we’ve had someone go 340 plus.

“We’re going to need every bit of the grid at Barefoot’s driving range. It’s going to be exciting. The numbers are going to be big.”

This year’s event has qualifiers in about 10 locations, including the last chance qualifier at Barefoot Resort on Aug. 16, which precedes the championship’s opening rounds. Qualifiers are as far away as Iowa and Utah, and each have attracted between 12 and 25 competitors thus far.

Long drive championship founder Jeff Gilder ran the Utah qualifier last week and said two participants flew in from Denver and two drove from New Mexico.

"They’re all doing long drive competitions for the first time," Gilder said. "We’re uncovering all kinds of world long drive talent. Once they get some great coaching and the right equipment they’ll be putting up some big numbers.”

The championship had more than 50 walk-up competitors last year, as well.

Registration for qualifiers is $75 for the first attempt and $50 for additional entries or attempts, and can be done at amateurlongdrive.com.

Dores operates the Myrtle Beach area chapters of the Golfweek Amateur Tour and Golfweek Senior Amateur Tour. The Golfweek tour has surpassed 100 members for the first time, and the senior tour, in its second year, has more than 70 members.

Gilder is a founder of the iNetGolf web development and digital marketing company, The Golf Director vacation company, and Myrtle Beach Golf Channel, which features Grand Strand-related online golf programming and content.

Dores, Gilder and Stefan, the long drive’s director of marketing and sales, had a harrowing experience returning from the International Network of Golf (ING) Spring Conference in Biloxi, Miss., on May 23, where they were marketing the long drive and their other endeavors and running a qualifier.

Gilder was driving a Chevy Suburban rental back to Myrtle Beach on I85 when a piece of plywood flew out of the back of a pickup truck and crashed through the windshield of the car.

“It came flipping through the air like the movie Twister and came flying through our windshield,” said Dores, who was in the back seat.

A point of a corner of the plywood hit the center console that houses lights and sunglasses, and pieces of the plywood splintered into the vehicle along with shards of glass, which covered Gilder and Stefan, who were in the front seats. Stefan had several cuts that bloodied his face, and neither he nor Gilder, who was driving, were able to see temporarily.

So with the car still in motion on the interstate, Dores directed Gilder to the side of the road.

“So I’m telling Jeff how to drive, how to cut across three lanes of traffic with his eyes closed on the interstate,” Dores said.

Stefan needed medical attention for his cuts from EMTs but amazingly no one in the car was seriously injured.

“We were just very, very lucky,” Gilder said. “If that had hit a couple inches lower it might have decapitated all of us. I don’t know how we got out of there without somebody hitting us.”

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