BANDON — A year ago, the first World Speedgolf Championships drew 17 elite golfers to Bandon Dunes Golf Resort and attracted the attention of CBS.
The sport has exploded since then, in part because of the 30-minute special CBS broadcast during Saturday of Masters week in the spring.
About 20 speedgolf leagues have cropped up across the country. The Speedgolf International Tour was created and included three events this year, with the potential for a number more in 2014. Several other fundraiser tournaments have been held. And interest in the world championships has grown.
This weekend, 27 elite golfers will tee it up at the resort competing for the second world title, most of them new to the sport.
“The field is so much better and deeper than last year,” said Tim Scott, the director of Speedgolf International. “It’s incredible.”
Six of the top seven players from last year are back, but nearly all the other players are new.
That group includes a pair of Olympians, two of the fastest middle distance runners in the world — Nick Willis of Australia and Bernard Lagat of the United States. They are fresh off finishing first and second in the Fifth Avenue Mile in New York, both just under 3 minutes and 53 seconds.
Willis could contend for the title this week because of his speed and his golf ability — he was an 8-handicap at the peak of his playing career.
“He hits the ball straight,” Scott said. “Then he can use his speed.”
As for Lagat, expectations won’t be as high.
“He’s going to struggle with the golf,” Scott said. “But what a great guy. For a runner to be 38 years old and running at an elite level is amazing.”
The rest of the elite players this week will have golf as their strength.
They include defending champion Chris Walker, who shot rounds of 77 at Old Macdonald and 76 at Bandon Dunes to edge Scott for the title last fall. Scott’s running time was faster, but his score was four shots worse each day.
Third place went to Tim Hval, the first pro at Bandon Dunes when the resort opened, who shot 74 on both courses, but wasn’t as quick as Walker.
Speedgolf record holder Christopher Smith was fourth last year. The teaching pro at Pumpkin Ridge joined Scott and their high school friend Jim Kosciolek in starting Speedgolf International and Smith set the record for the sport when he shot 65 in just over 44 minutes at the Chicago Speedgolf Classic in 2005. But he was recovering from an injury last year and his running time was not as good.
Two international players also return: Jaacob Bowden of Switzerland, who was fifth a year ago, and speedy Robert Hogan of Ireland, who was sixth thanks to blazing running times — 44 minutes at Old Macdonald and 43 minutes and 5 seconds at Bandon Dunes.
They will be joined by a whole generation of new speedgolfers.
The top-ranked player is Allan Phillips, a student in San Antonio who won’t arrive at Bandon until Saturday morning and will have to leave Sunday afternoon because of his school schedule. Like many of the others, he will be seeing the resort courses for the first time.
At the most recent tournament, the Oregon Speedgolf Open near Portland, Phillips, Hogan and Scott all finished with speedgolf scores under 120. Phillips won with a score of 75 in 42:02.
“We knew there were guys out here who could do this,” Scott said. “Finally, the CBS program got it out there.”
That’s how Willis found out about the world championships.
He grew up playing golf in the offseason from running and heard that famed miler Steve Scott had played a round of golf in under 30 minutes while using just a 3-iron.
Willis gave it a try at his home course in New Zealand for his first run after taking time off following the Beijing Olympics, where he won the silver medal in the 1,500 meters.
“I was 2-under par after nine holes,” Willis said. He also was tired from running, but he kept playing.
That was five years ago, and Willis had not tried the sport again until he saw the CBS special.
“I contacted Tim Scott and the idea has become a reality,” said Willis, who arrived in Portland on Tuesday and will travel to Bandon on Thursday.
The elite field was set to have 30 golfers, but injuries reduced it to 27. Those who won’t make the trip are Gretchen Johnson, the only woman in the field and the eighth-place finisher last year; Mark Stockamp, who won the amateur division last year with a score that was better than Walker’s at Bandon Dunes; and J.J. Killeen, a professional golfer who made $414,257 on the PGA Tour in 2012 and also is a good runner.
The tournament starts at 8 a.m. both Saturday and Sunday and the public is welcome to watch.
In addition, it will be broadcast live on the Internet both days from 8 a.m. to noon by Oomba.com. The coverage will be produced by the same company that put together the show for CBS last year.
The elite golfers will be joined Sunday by a field of 26 amateurs, who will tee it up after the elite golfers at Bandon Dunes.