Being a professional in golf’s minor leagues can be a long, difficult and uncertain trek. By the summer of 2013, Renee Skidmore had already invested five years and was still waiting for her big break.
Or, as it turned, “The Big Break.”
Last summer, Skidmore and 11 other young women (including three other golfers from the state of Washington) — all of them golfers, all of them still on the outskirts of professional stardom — were chosen as contestants for the reality television program “The Big Break Florida.” In October, and behind a cloak of secrecy that would have made the CIA proud, the dozen golfers were joined by producers, cameramen, on-air hosts and other Golf Channel personnel at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort in Amelia Island, Fla., for two weeks of golf competitions, all of it filmed and later edited into an upcoming 11-week program.
Beginning next week, golf fans around the country and right here in Snohomish County will be able to watch Skidmore and her rivals bid for more than $175,000 in cash and prizes, including a winner’s package that includes $65,000, exempt status with paid entry fees for the 2014 Symetra Tour (formerly the LPGA Futures Tour), an exemption to an LPGA Tour tournament in June, and an assortment of other cash and prizes, all of it totaling upward of $100,000.
“I’m very, very thankful that I was selected to be a part of the show,” said the 27-year-old Skidmore, a 2004 graduate of Everett’s Cascade High School. “It was an amazing opportunity. I knew that it would be a great opportunity before I even went on the show, and I think I’m realizing that even more now after having been on the show.”
The first “Big Break” was televised in October of 2003, and there have been 20 other seasons over the years at scenic golf destinations around the world. According to Jeremy Friedman, a Golf Channel spokesman, “there are hundreds of applicants a year for ‘The Big Break.’ We’re always looking for, one, professional golfers who have a terrific golf game because that’s first and foremost. And, two, diverse personalities because that’s what makes for great television.
“We want those personalities to show themselves during the show … and Renee has a great personality,” he said.
Skidmore had actually been a candidate two other times — in 2010 for “The Big Break Sandals Resort” and last year for “The Big Break Mexico,” when she ended up as the first alternate.
“The third time was the charm, I guess, because I got selected,” she said.
The program involves three challenges per episode, all of them related to golf skills. There might be a long-drive contest or a closest-to-the-pin chipping contest, but there might also be challenge where contestants try to smash a pane of glass with a golf shot. One episode is filmed each day, and at the end of the day the contestant with the lowest score is eliminated.
Skidmore is not a big fan of reality television — “I don’t watch a lot of TV,” she admitted — but says being on the program was interesting, challenging and, at times, nerve wracking.
“It was definitely unlike anything I’d ever experienced before,” she said. “I didn’t mind people watching me (on the golf course). In fact, I feel like I play better when people are watching me. So the cameras didn’t bother me that much. But what was more difficult was being miked up all the time. People are listening and recording everything you say, so you need to be careful about what’s coming out of your mouth.
“I think everyone had moments of saying something (they regret). … Because when you’re miked up and the cameras are on so much, something is bound to slip at some point.”
Because the contestants were together most of every day, “and because you’re putting different personalities together, you can pretty much bank on what happens when the opposites clash,” she said. “With 12 girls competing for money, there’s going to be cattiness. There’s definitely going to be drama, there’s definitely going to be conflicts, and there’s going to be some waterworks flowing.”
Skidmore was chosen for the show last summer, but was only able to share that information with close family and friends until the entire cast was announced by the network last month. But like other reality TV shows — think of “The Bachelor,” as an example — Skidmore and the other contestants are bound by a legal contract not to reveal anything about the show, including the eventual winner.
But even if Skidmore knows the outcome, she does not know what film clips and sounds bites will be used. “I haven’t seen anything, so I have no idea,” she said. “I’ll be just like everyone else. And I’m really looking forward to watching.”
For Skidmore, of course, the whole point of being on the program is to further her golf career. She played last season on the Symetra Tour and made eight cuts, earning $3,724 to finish 97th on the tour’s money list. She is currently living in Jupiter, Fla., where she rents a condo, and she is training with her coach in preparation for the new season.
“My dream is to earn my LPGA Tour card,” said Skidmore, who has been to the LPGA Tour qualifying school three times. “I’m looking to do that for the 2015 season, to play full-time and then looking for my first win on the LPGA Tour.”
Competitive golf can sometimes seem like a heartless career, “and there are definitely moments when I question whether this is what I want to be doing,” she admitted. “But competing on the LPGA Tour is my end-all dream and I’m going to do whatever it takes to get there.
“Everybody has their highs and lows, and it’s just a matter of being patient, of preparing yourself properly, of believing in yourself, and then embracing the journey.”