One of the U.S. ProMiniGolf Association's premier events, the United States Open Miniature Golf Tournament, begins today at Bluegrass Miniature Golf Course in Oceanport, N.J.
This is not a satire. This is real.
The two-day tournament is one of professional miniature golf's three highest-profile events, the other two being the Master's and the world championships. Entry into the contest was open with a $100 payment before Aug. 1 and $125 after Aug. 1. The Friday-Saturday affair features nine or ten rounds (TBA, according to the website) with a purse of $12,000.
This year's champion will earn a $3,500 check. The runner-up will receive $1,500, and the top ten place finishers will receive monetary prizes. The top 30 will earn some sort of award.
Located at Monmouth Park Racetrack, Bluegrass is a relatively flat course untarnished by windmills, clowns and other accessories. One could call it a "links" miniature golf course.
For some of the competitors, the U.S. Open is the highlight of the professional season. By paying just $25 to the U.S. ProMiniGolf Association, anyone can bag amateur status for the pros. The American circuit features a variety of tournaments with a common championship prize in the mid three-figures, according to The New York Times.
Arguably the sport's best player, 19-year-old Olivia Prokopova, is in this year's field. The Czech teen won two of the past three U.S. Opens, at Greatest Adventures in Branson, Mo., (2011) and Crocodile Rocks in North Myrtle Beach, S.C. (2013). Prokopova's prize money for winning the 2013 U.S. Open was $2,000, which indicates the sport is growing with this year's first place being worth $3,500. She also won the triple crown (U.S. Open, Master's, World Championships) in miniature golf a season ago.
Prokopova told The New York Times she practices 8 to 12 hours six days a week, reserving time for schoolwork on Wednesdays. Propokova's father runs a miniature golf course-building company back in the Czech Republic. One of the company's employees, 39-year-old Ales Vlk, travels with Prokopova as her nutritionist, masseur, motivational coach, physical therapist and training partner. The star said she takes 14 vitamin and herbal supplements a day.
"I have to eat light food before I play, or else I can't bend down and pick up the ball," she told the New York Times.
In the Czech Republic, Prokopova hit celebrity status. She is the subject of a book and a documentary, and she has her own website. The greenside sniper has corporate sponsors and a line of jackets. She has met the president of the Czech Republic on two occasions.
Prokopova's most notable suitor may be Brad Lebo, a 53-year-old dentist from Pennsylvania. Lebo won both the 2006 and 2010 editions of the U.S. Open. Lebo claims to have earned $9,000 in his career thanks to 105 victories, but he only gets love from some friends.
“I get a mixed bag of comments. People I play golf with are either intrigued, or they mock me hysterically," Lebo, who participates in 45 to 50 tournaments a year, says.
Along with Prokopova and Lebo, about half the U.S. Open field will feature local New Jesrey amateurs within driving distance. This will not belittle the competition. For professional miniature golfers, this is the big time. Even if just on turf in a New Jersey Park.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.