When skiing’s newest pro tournament – the GOODE Atlanta Pro Am – is held on Memorial Day in Atlanta, Ga., it will not only feature a lineup that would make many pro events green with envy, it will be a testament to the determination and love of the sport of its organizer, WaterSki Atlanta founder and Mens 3 competitor George Obser.
Earlier this week we were able to get George to take a short break from his pre-event preparations to talk about the tournament, its unique format and why he thinks it’s important to give pros opportunities to compete in cash-prize events.
Can you tell us a little about the GOODE Atlanta Pro Am and the reason you decided to hold it?
George: The GOODE Atlanta Pro Am started out as a very small idea a few years ago when I moved our ski club, WaterSki Atlanta, to our new site at Princeton Lake. Everyone that skis with us always mentions that it’s the most unique site they’ve ever skied and that it would be a perfect place to host a pro event.
Why host this event on Memorial Day?
George: The Masters tournament takes place every Memorial Day weekend and I grew up in Atlanta going to that event to watch the best skiers in the world. Atlanta is less than an hour drive north of Callaway Gardens, so I decided to make a few calls and see if any pro skiers wanted to come up to Atlanta the day after the Masters finals for a small pro am. I knew the skiers in my club would get a kick out of skiing with the pros in a small backyard tournament, and it evolved into something bigger than I ever thought possible.
I also served 20 years in the United States Marine Corps and retired just last August. Memorial Day is a holiday I don’t take for granted. I’ve lost many friends and fellow Marines over the years and will celebrate their service and the ultimate sacrifice they made during this event. Hundreds of American flags will be flying on the shoreline to honor those that have gone before us in service to our nation.
Unfortunately, opportunities for pro skiers to compete in cash-prize events have become fewer over the years. Why is it important to give pros a chance to earn some cash?
George: It’s important because it’s the right thing to do. The days of “Hot Summer Nights” and big corporate sponsorship and national broadcasts are behind us. It’s now up to the “little guys”, which are various ski clubs across the country like WaterSki Atlanta, to step up to the plate and take their passion for the sport to the next level.
Dana Reed has done just that with the Malibu Open in Milwaukee. The Sac-Town Gold Rush has taken off on the west coast, and Tommy Harrington and Jeff Gilbert are taking the same big steps on the east coast up at Little Mountain Ski Club in N.C. Pro skiing is even returning to Lake Eola in downtown Orlando later this summer. I think and hope that these small steps will eventually lead to something big again for professional water skiing.
In addition to the pros, you’ve included a pretty stacked field of MM skiers as well as amateurs, thus the pro am part of the title. What was the idea behind including them?
George: I included the MM division in the event because the Big Dawg series is something that I personally think has brought interest in competition back into water skiing.
And amateurs have a lot in common with Big Dawg skiers. Maybe not in buoy counts, but off the water they share the stress of having a regular job, family, busy kids, they are similar in age, and they both have to endure the never-ending challenge of getting enough quality water time.
We’ve heard that the format is going to be a little different, can you explain it?
George: The Open and Masters Men skiers will ski two preliminary rounds and the highest scores from either round will advance to the finals. The skier with the highest score in each division during the finals wins a cash prize.
The amateur competitors will be handicapped and skiing against their 12-month AWSA average. They will ski two preliminary rounds on Sunday and the top-10 amateurs with the highest number of buoys over their “average” (or closest to their average) will advance to the Memorial Day finals to ski with the pros and the Big Dawgs that advance.
A big part of making an event like this a success is getting sponsors. How has that gone so far?
George: Getting sponsors initially was surprisingly easy, but I made sure I wasn’t asking for the world because I knew most budgets for 2012 events were already spent.
All of the ski manufacturers agreed to support the Atlanta Pro Am right away and GOODE jumped on the opportunity to be the title sponsor the first day they heard about the event, which I’m extremely grateful for.
The boat manufacturers were also excited about getting involved in the event. Malibu, MasterCraft, and Nautique will each pull one round on Memorial Day. Eagle Sports went above and beyond to sponsor the event and will be providing the skier bib for the finals also.
Victory Brewing is our only “out-of-the-industry” sponsor and they have been nothing but gracious to us and they fit into the GOODE Atlanta Pro Am perfectly. Their brand is a great theme for a competition where everyone is striving for victory and I’m sure everyone will be quite thirsty and looking for one to drink after the skiing is over.