2004: An exercise in excess

Note to U.S. Ryder Cup captain Hal Sutton: Want a surefire way to motivate this year’s squad? The Tavistock folks have a ready answer – money. And sleek ski boats. And shiny Harley-Davidsons. And more money.

The excesses of the $1.5 million Tavistock Cup, a match play event designed to showcase two Orlando, Fla., luxury developments (Isleworth Country Club and Lake Nona Country Club, which played host) owned by billionaire British currency trader Joe Lewis, certainly caught the attention of the contestants. The purse for the March 29-30 exhibition eclipsed those offered by more than 75 percent of the LPGA’s tournaments in ’04, doling out $100,000 to each player on the winning team (Isleworth) with the losers pocketing $50,000. Add $100K for the low individual score and the entire affair made for a profitable two days regardless of which side of the won/loss column one was on.

To spice the lavish pot, Lewis, whose family owns the Tavistock Group, had par-3 prizes that ranged from new BMWs to Harley-Davidsons and Ski Nautiques.

And you wonder if even the Eve of Excess herself, Leona Helmsley, might have felt just a tad sheepish when Lewis had Team Isleworth shuttled via helicopter to Lake Nona, a mere 25 miles from gate to guarded gate.

From the two Cuban gentlemen hand-rolling complimentary cigars in the shadow of Lake Nona’s stately clubhouse to the five-course meals, no bill was too outrageous, no expense too extravagant.

The event was made even more elitist by the select gallery. Only Lake Nona and Isleworth members, and a handful of special guests, watched the live action. The only way middle America got a glimpse was via The Golf Channel, which treated the tournament as if it were the year’s fifth major with 10 hours of live coverage followed by a dizzying parade of recaps and replays.

And how peculiar must the made-for-television gala have seemed to Eric McCullough, 14, who watched in confused silence from just behind Lake Nona’s 18th green. Disconnect was etched across his face.

The confusion was a byproduct of the collision of two vastly different worlds – the contrived dreamscape of the inaugural Tavistock Cup and the harsh reality of McCullough’s life in a poor neighborhood in central Florida.

To be fair, this Tavistock Cup delivered a $500,000 donation to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and a day away from the mean streets endured by McCullough and 31 other members of the Orlando Minority Youth Golf Association.

But what kind of lesson was to be learned watching rich, pampered pros become richer and more pampered?

Being tossed from less affluent neighborhoods directly into a fire of frills, just for a day, would leave even an adult hopelessly out of place.

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