Anyone who has ever set foot on a first tee knows all about the extra pleasure a side wager among friends can bring to a day hacking through the sand, woods and water of your friendly neighborhood golf course, from East Potomac Park to Pebble Beach.
Perhaps that helps explain why so many folks tuned in a year ago to watch the first-time telecast of "The Skins Game," a made-for-television tournament that featured four of the game's greatest players -- Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Tom Watson -- competing head-to- head in a big-money version of the traditional golf gambling game.
There was nothing traditional about the stakes, however.
Not when Arnold Palmer sank a putt to win $100,000 on the 12th hole, twice as much money as he had ever won in any of his 61 tournament titles, including eight majors, over his long and legendary career.
Not when Player made a four-foot putt for birdie on the 17th hole for $150,000, about $50,000 more than the first prize for winning any tournament on the PGA tour.
Not when the first six holes are worth $10,000, the next six $20,000 and the final six $30,000, with the cash carrying over to the next hole if none of the four can win a "skin."
As Nicklaus said during one point in the telecast last year, "There's nothing like a little skins game to get your heart started in the morning."
And so, the same four players will be starting their hearts for the same high stakes again this weekend, meeting Saturday and Sunday at the Desert Highlands Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., for the second annual "Skins" to be televised live by Channel 4 from 3:30 to 6 p.m.
Whether there will be a second annual controversy remains to be seen. A year ago, Watson accused Player of improving his lie on the 16th hole in a conversation that was overheard by New York Times columnist Dave Anderson, who wrote about it the next day.
Suddenly, an event that had more than a bit of difficulty getting on network television in the first place was getting front-page coverage all around the country.
"Actually, "The Skins Game" was a rousing success before the controversy," said Don Ohlmeyer, whose Ohlmeyer Communications Company created, packaged and produced "The Skins Game" then and now. "We held our own in the ratings Saturday against Nebraska-Oklahoma. We got a 9 rating in New York against the Giants on Sunday, and a 13 rating in Los Angeles, both of which were excellent.
"Unfortunately, the controversy is all most people remember about it, but I guess it will add to the interest this year. I think we're certainly going to mention it. We're not going to make a big deal about it, but you can't put your head in the sand, either.
"To Tom and Gary, it was theoretically a private conversation they were having that somebody was eavesdropping on. If Tom had wanted to make it public, he would have done it. He simply brought something to Gary's attention. It got out, and that's the way it goes."
This year, "The Skins Game" had no difficulty getting back on the air. "Last year, ABC wanted no part of it," Ohlmeyer said. "This year, they were very interested. But we felt a loyalty to NBC because they did take a chance last year. Even though we purchased the time ourselves, they promoted the hell out of it, treated it like a major event. From that standpoint, we felt obligated to deal with them again this year."
Ohlmeyer also has been negotiating with the PGA about the possibility of making "Skins" a regular event on the PGA Tour, with players qualifying for it based on money-winnings or other criteria, perhaps even a vote by golf fans on the lines of all-star baseball voting.
Still, Ohlmeyer also knows the appeal of the first and second "Skins" rests largely on the notion of having four of the game's greatest stars, none of whom had ever played in the same foursome together in any event until last year.
"If you're sitting in your living room watching any golf tournament at all and those same four guys were tied for the lead, you'd call your neighbor and tell him to watch," Ohlmeyer said. "Last year, they started off with a lot of friendly chatter, but as the money got bigger and bigger, there was a real edge in their voice."
Ohlmeyer, 38, has always had a reputation for innovative work in television sports, first with ABC as either director or producer of three Olympics Games and producer of "Monday Night Football," as executive producer of NBC Sports starting in 1980, and now as chairman of the board and chief executive officer of his own company since 1982.
The firm is half-owned by Nabisco Brands, Inc., a $6 billion international food company that recently invested $60 million in purchasing a 20 percent share of the ESPN cable network. Ohlmeyer also is serving as a consultant to ESPN on programming, planning and strategy.
"We think ESPN has great potential," Ohlmyer said. "They have gone through Phase One, which is start-up from nothing to where we are today. Now it's time to move into Phase Two, and we think things can be done better.
"I think the service in general needs to broaden its appeal. Over the course of a week, it needs to be more well-rounded. Because it's on 24 hours a day, I think it can provide a service to all sports fans, from the general audience to the rabid fan.
"The goal is not to have someone watch it from the time they come home to the time they go to sleep. But it should provide windows of opportunity both for the general public and the advertisers. The one thing that holds it all together is the Sports Center, our ability to give up-to-the-minute information scores, news, highlights. It's the truly unique aspect of ESPN. We've already made some improvements, and it will be a major focus of our attention."
This weekend, however, Ohlmeyer will be focusing on Scottsdale and "The Skins Game." Based on its success of a year ago, the American public should be all eyes, as well.