ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Army News Service, June 10, 2009) -- For the first time in the competition, 20 big hitters will advance to the finals of the 2009 Military Long Drive Championship presented by 7Up to compete for $10,000 on Oct. 20, in Mesquite, Nev.

In the first year of the event, five military golfers competed at the finals. In the second year, the competition was opened to military family members and six competitors advanced to the finals.

From the moment competitors land in nearby Las Vegas, they receive the green-carpet treatment of a lifetime while vying for military long drive bragging rights.

Former Army sergeant and military spouse Brandon Boehmer, who finished second in the 2008 Military Long Drive Championship, can't wait to earn another trip to Mesquite.

"It gives you an opportunity to go out there and win some money, get some sponsors, and meet good people, too," Boehmer said. "I've met a ton of good people out here. And if you win these little scrambles, they give you like thousand-dollar clubs. I feel like a king."

"I'm from the country. If you go to tournaments out there, you get a hot dog and a Coke - and a smile and a cigar, if you want one. Out here, they gave me clubs, they gave me this, gave me that: a free flight over here, a stay in a nice hotel. It was awesome. The whole thing was great from start to finish."

Boehmer played golf without much success as a youngster and took up the sport of long driving just 40 days before stepping onto the grand stage in Mesquite.

"I golfed with our club pro a couple of times and he told me I had a hell of a swing," said Boehmer, who works with Army Youth Sports programs at Camp Zama, Japan.

He was ready to tee it up again in Mesquite before he left last autumn.

"My workout partners back home are already ready to go," Boehmer said after finishing runner-up to Hixson. "They called me three times and I hadn't gotten from the driving range to the ESPN tent over there.

"What did you do'" they asked.

"Finished second," Boehmer replied.

"Got to hit the weights harder," the voice shot back.

Boehmer assured everyone within earshot "when I come back here next year, y'all won't be able to recognize me."

Staff Sgt. Bryan King reached the finals in each of the first two years of the military competition.

"The Army always has some of the best people in anything in the world - you can put it right up there with people that are great at it or have the potential to be great," King said. "I think more people are getting aware of this event. I know people in my unit were asking me if I was competing again this year, and they were keeping up with my competitions, so I know the word is getting out."

The Army Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command-backed Military Long Drive Championship is open to all active-duty military and family members, 18 and older, including National Guard, Reserves and retirees from all services.

"MWR is all about families, not just Soldiers," said King, who is accustomed to being treated like a King. "I wouldn't be surprised if some of the top open-division guys have a military dependent card."

King dreams of eventually seeing a long-drive competition added to the Armed Forces Sports calendar. For now, a week in Mesquite with the Long Drivers of America will suffice.

"If they're doing it, I'm doing it," he said.

This time, however, every local winner earns a trip to Mesquite. The schedule of qualifiers:

NAS North Island, Calif., Aug. 6
Fort Jackson, S.C., Aug. 8
Heidelberg, Germany, Aug. 8
Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, Aug. 9
Fort McPherson, Ga., Aug. 15
Fort Carson, Colo., Aug. 15
Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., Aug. 15
Camp Zama, Japan, Aug. 15
Fort Bliss, Texas, Aug. 21
Fort Hood, Texas, Aug. 22
Fort Campbell, Ky., Aug. 22
Fort Dix, N.J., Aug. 22
Fort Benning, Ga., Aug. 24
Fort Sill, Okla., Aug. 24
Fort Lewis, Wash., Aug. 28
Fort Lee, Va., Sept. 12
Fort Bragg, N.C., Sept. 19
Fort Belvoir, Va., TBD
Fort Huachuca, Ariz., TBD
Yongsan, Korea, TBD

(Tim Hipps writes for Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation Command Public Affairs.)