By Art Stricklin
THACKERVILLE – The next evolution of the World Long Drive Championship took place in moonlit southern Oklahoma Wednesday night, as golf’s longest hitters took to the range of the WinStar Golf Course at the WinStar World Casino & Resort.
While England’s Joe Miller, the 2010 champion, took home the 2016 prize of $125,000 and, a large silver belt with a final drive of 423 yards, WinStar General Manager Michael Ferguson said the real winner were the golf fans in Oklahoma who showed up in person and the millions who watched on live Golf Channel Television.
“I can tell you this is only going to get bigger and better,” Ferguson said. “This worldwide event will showcase not only our world’s largest casino, but our great golf course with great greens for a great time.”
WinStar was hosting the World Long Drive, the 41st annual, for the second time and with the Golf Channel owning and operating the event this year, Ferguson said he had more freedom to help plan, execute and grow the event which he sees as a great opportunity to showcase his resort and golf.
“At the end of the day, we are going to have a new winner, a big check, a nice belt and wonderful course and you have to ask yourself, where would you would rather be?”
Miller, who finished ninth at WinStar last year, wowed the hundreds crowded in the grandstands built around the practice range with an opening drive of 437 yards which rolled through the 435-yard grid and finished against an Oklahoma tree well.
“It feels like just what we should be doing in golf,” Miller said. “It feels great, the best feeling in the world. WinStar puts on a great show and treat us so well, I can’t wait to come back here next year.”
That’s exactly what Ferguson wants to hear from the players the fans and most importantly the Golf Channel executives, who have a year-to-year contract with the facility.
Among the fans WinStar hosted this week was two dozen Chinese business customers who came over to see the casino, experience the golf course and soak up the golf-charged atmosphere.
“All this is possible because we are hosting the World Long Drive,” Ferguson said. “It’s only getting better from here.”
With the recent addition of the 9 additional holes designed by Champions Tour player and Dallas resident D.A. Weibring, along with the elaborate practice facilities, Ferguson feels he can continue to grow the golf and resort brand of the facility.
“I want people to know what we have here and how great it is and after tonight I think they will.”
Dallas’ Art Sellinger, a former World Long Drive Championship himself, who came out with the idea of turning the sport into a nationally televised showcase with complete with booming rock music, artificial smoke and rowdy crowds on the massive casino property of the Texas-Oklahoma border.
He sold the World Long Drive concept to the Golf Channel after last year’s event, but said was glad to see what his once-humble contest had become just over an hour from his hometown.
“I glad I could sell my baby to somebody who had the resources to turn it into something like this,” he said, pointing to the packed grandstands. “I did a lot of hard work, but I proud to see what it has turned out to be.”
Ferguson said he has plenty of hard work left, but is proud to see what local golf fans can experience in person at WinStar and via worldwide television this year and hopefully for many years to come.