Madcap Doug Keister and friends play and party in a Western
This is an article from the July 6, 1998 issue
It's like golf on Mars, except there's a general store half an
hour up the road. "Last food for 92 miles," the sign reads. Beer
sales there go into orbit around the summer solstice, when a
motley mix of golfers passes through Empire, Nev., on the way to
the Black Rock Desert Self Invitational.
"It's golf. It's a party. It's surreal," says two-time champ
Kent Cooper. The tournament, dreamed up as a lark 10 years ago
by Albany, Calif., photographer Doug Keister, has evolved into a
sort of Masters of bizarro golf. Each year Keister and a few
dozen friends play a two-man scramble on a course they
spray-paint onto the desert floor. Open to anyone who brings $50
and a smile, the Self Invitational is its founder's tribute to
his favorite wasteland. "There's no place else like this on the
planet," he says.
In 1988 Keister brought several friends to this ancient lake bed
100 miles northeast of Reno to celebrate his 40th birthday. They
buried coffee cans in the scorched earth and slapped balls
around a landscape Keister calls "flat as a tabletop, with a
climate like a vast blow-dryer." Rocket cars use the Black Rock
Desert, which is larger than Rhode Island, to break the sound
barrier. Last October the world land speed record of 763.035 mph
was set here by driver Andy Green, who zoomed through the middle
of Keister's course.
The Invitational's speedsters don't make sonic booms, but they
play fast enough. Contestants ride trail bikes on the
7,056-yard, par-76 Lucifer's Anvil Golf Course, where the greens
are fanciful paintings of a flaming Hades, a patch of freeway,
even a suburban living room complete with thrift-store
furniture. "We use all the Rules of Golf," Keister deadpans,
"except when we don't." His latest innovation: a green in the
shape of a chessboard, featuring knee-high rooks, bishops and
pawns. "You can move the pieces if they're in your way, but only
with a legal chess move," he says.
In last weekend's 11th Self Invitational, Cooper teamed with
Dale Brown to repeat as king of the desert. On their way to a
best-ball 74, two under par, they teed up every shot. "Putts,
too," Cooper says. "It's rugged terrain." The course's garish
greens, now equipped with regulation cups and flagsticks, are
covered with cracks. Some players chip with seven-irons until
they reach tap-in distance. Many use machine-gun shell casings,
left over from Black Rock's years as a firing range, as tees.
"Hit your putts hard, that's my advice," says Cooper. "And stay
At a course where the water hazards are mirages--biodegradable
blue paint on arid clay--and the outdoor toilet is behind a prop
door painted with a half moon, one liquid is plentiful. "We
enjoy a few beers," says one player, whose postround recreation
is taking midnight rides on his trail bike. "I like riding into
the pitch dark at top speed," he says. "There's nothing out
there to hit, except maybe another drunken person." Veteran
Black Rocker Jeff Hunt says he appreciates "the wildlife. It
gets hot, so we'll see some scantily clad women. Girlfriends,
mostly, but now we're starting to get some women players too."
Two of them surprised Keister and company a couple of years ago
by showing up campily clad in sneakers and Elizabethan dresses.
"What's at stake here? It's still mostly male pride," says
lawyer Richard Brown, designer of the Living Room hole. Keister,
naturally, has a quirkier take. "A man would never ask another
man to go for a walk," he says. "Golf is our way of taking a
But is the party at Black Rock really golf? "It's a lot like
golf. It's golf plus freedom," Keister says.
After European stars Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood asked for,
and received, sponsor's exemptions to last week's Western Open
only to send their regrets at the last minute, claiming that
they were pooped after enduring the U.S. Open, tournament
director Greg McLaughlin lit into them. "This is totally
outrageous. It's almost unbelievable," McLaughlin fumed last
week. "You can see why the European tour has so many problems if
they allow players to do that." Don't expect to see Clarke or
Westwood at Cog Hill anytime soon. "Neither player is welcome at
the Western, period," McLaughlin said.
Two Sundays ago at the Olympic Club, Lee Janzen abandoned hope
of winning the U.S. Open. As he would admit to reporters, Janzen
thought he had no chance after opening par-bogey-bogey to fall
seven strokes behind Payne Stewart. But Janzen's wife, Beverly,
somehow knew it would be Lee's day. "I haven't brought a camera
to a tournament in nine years," she said moments after her
husband's victory, "but before today's round I put my camera in
my purse. Of course, I didn't tell Lee about it."
Another premonition missed the mark. A congratulatory bouquet of
flowers was delivered to Stewart's locker on Sunday afternoon
while the leader played the final round. The flowers remained
there, untouched, long after Stewart had left the premises.
In long shadows on the 18th green, Beverly Janzen handed her
camera to an AP photographer. The reward for her hunch was a
professional portrait, albeit with a common camera, of the
Janzen entourage--minus Lee, who was busy hoisting a gleaming
silver cup for a hundred other photographers. --Cameron Morfit
The Shag Bag
Two-timer: After Joe Ogilvie holed a 137-yard pitching wedge for
a double eagle at the 489-yard, par-5 14th hole in the final
round of last week's Nike Greensboro Open, "every hair on my
body stood on end," he said. "I was one giant tingle." Ogilvie
coasted home to become the sneaker tour's first two-time winner.
He finished four shots ahead of runner-up Chris Zambri and six
up on Spanish amateur sensation Sergio Garcia. Casey Martin, who
must finish in the top 15 to earn a PGA Tour card, fell to 17th
on the Nike tour money list. He has accepted a sponsor's
exemption to next week's Quad City Classic.
French Disconnection: Colin Montgomerie (below), who refused to
come unglued when heckled by fans at the U.S. Open, finally lost
his head at last week's French Open in Guyancourt. After
double-bogeying his 15th hole last Friday, Montgomerie slapped
his putter to the ground in disgust. The head of the club came
loose, and Monty, who would finish seven shots behind winner Sam
Torrance, parred his last two holes putting with an eight-iron.
Fluff Cowan, Supermodel: The Professional Caddies Association
has signed an endorsement deal with B.U.M. sportswear.
Into the Cup: Laura Davies was bummed to learn that her Friday
tee time at the ShopRite LPGA Classic would mean missing the
England-Colombia World Cup match. "I was depressed," Davies
said. "But I had my cell phone on to my dad, who put the phone
up to the TV so I could keep track of the match." England won
2-0 to advance to the second round, but Davies was eliminated
when she shot 72-74 to miss the cut. Annika Sorenstam won her
second straight start.
Dilfer's Pickle: Maybe Trent Dilfer of the Tampa Bay Bucs was
sore from patting himself on the back. After pronouncing himself
an all-star of golfing QBs at the NFL Classic, Dilfer shanked
his tee shot at the 15th hole on Saturday and made a double
bogey, then fluffed a chip at 16 to make bogey. But the '97
champ birdied 18 to force overtime against Baltimore Ravens
linebacker Brian Kincher, then birdied the same hole to win
$30,000 and a DeVille, both of which he handed off to charity.
Tour of Doody: Skip Kendall didn't skip the Western Open, but he
had low expectations because he has been so busy as a new dad to
his one-month-old son, Noah. "The last four weeks I've been
burped on, pooped on, farted on, thrown up on and peed on,"
Kendall says. "Isn't that what life's all about?" He finished
17th to earn $33,000 in pin money.
Seeing Red: Nancy Lopez, on the last-place Cincinnati Reds: "I
feel like writing them a letter and asking what the problem is
now." Her husband, Ray Knight, was axed as the Reds' manager
Teeny Error: Kelli Kuehne will miss this week's U.S. Open due to
a rookie mistake. At a qualifier in Ann Arbor, Mich., the
21-year-old played a tee shot from outside the tee markers. She
was hit with a two-stroke penalty and missed qualifying by one.
A Second Life For Big Cat
After more than a decade out of the spotlight, Evan (Big Cat)
Williams made his first Senior tour appearance at last week's
Cadillac NFL Classic in Clifton, N.J., where the bomber from
nearby Leonia was given a sponsor's exemption. Williams, 50, won
two National Long Drive Championships in the '70s, but last week
he left his driver at home. The Cat stayed within pouncing
distance of the lead for much of the week by hitting three-woods
and irons off the tees. Still he averaged 271 yards a pop, 16th
best in the field. Williams showed off his power by clouting a
330-yard three-wood on Sunday to set up an eagle. He tied for
41st (with Deane Beman), nine strokes behind winner Bob Dickson,
and won $4,840. "I was nervous," says Williams, who has cut his
long-driving exhibition schedule in half to prepare for Senior Q
school in November. "I always made my living on exhibitions, so
I never gave myself a chance to make it as a player. This is my
chance." If he succeeds, some of the courses on the Senior tour
may need to be Catproofed.
Lost In The Rough At Olympic
TRAIN WRECKS Here's how four contenders crashed and burned. Tom
Lehman made three double bogeys. Jeff Maggert was four over par
at the 457-yard par-4 5th hole. On Saturday, David Duval played
the 10th through 14th holes in six over par. Stewart Cink had
back-to-back doubles on Thursday and three straight bogeys in
the final round.
CHIP SHOTS John Daly led the field in driving distance and had a
369-yard Sunday drive, but dinked a timid 211-yarder while he
was still in contention. Even that blooper topped the week's
weakest, a 198-yard drive by D.A. Weibring. Mark O'Meara,
meanwhile, hit just 19 of 56 fairways. O'Meara ranked 60th in
hitting fairways among the 60 men who made the cut. Tying for
56th were Jose Maria Olazabal, who hit only one fairway on
Friday, and Casey Martin.
HELL HOLE Loren Roberts, Eduardo Romero, Tiger Woods and Bruce
Zabriski escaped the evil 468-yard par-4 17th in even par.
Banjo-hitter Roberts had to get up and down four times in a row
to do it. Nobody played the hole under par, helping the 17th
earn the title of Scariest Hole Since Courtney Love Started a
From Slavery to Country Clubs
While researching Forbidden Fairways: African Americans and the
Game of Golf (Sleeping Bear Press, $24.95), Calvin Sinnette, a
retired pediatrician, unspooled miles of grainy microfilm at the
Library of Congress. "Did I get headaches! The black newspapers
weren't indexed," Sinnette says. "To find my material, I had to
go through them page by page. That's why it took me five years
to write the book." Forbidden Fairways tells of slaves who
caddied for their Southern masters and of trailblazers like
George Grant, a Boston dentist who patented the first golf tee
in 1899, and Charlie Sifford and Bill Spiller, the pros who
helped break the PGA's color line in 1961. There's even
something for casual fans who know Tiger Woods only as that tall
young man on the Oprah show. The book's introduction is by
Oprah's boyfriend, Stedman Graham.
On July 3, 1988, at the Western Open, a 24-year-old from Wyoming
found himself in contention in his PGA Tour debut. Jim Benepe, a
Q school casualty in '86, had honed his game on mini-tours in 14
nations before landing a sponsor's exemption into the Western
field in '88. The former Northwestern standout grabbed the lead
on Sunday, but three-putted for bogey on the final hole. He
consoled himself with thoughts of $97,200 in second-place money.
Then Peter Jacobsen double-bogeyed 18 to hand Benepe the
$162,000 winner's check. "Peter gave me the tournament,"
admitted the stunned rookie, who never again approached the
winner's circle. Today Benepe, 34, sells real estate in
Sheridan, Wyo., but makes a yearly sojourn to the Western, where
his victory provided a lifetime exemption. In his 10th
anniversary outing last week, he shot 75-73 and missed the cut
by two strokes.
What do these players have in common?
They are the only Florida natives to win a PGA Tour event in 1998.