Homeless golf pro Mark Burk (left) is the subject of a Golf Channel reality series produced by Adam Cohen '02.
January 11, 2011
When Adam Cohen ’02 met Mark Burk, a homeless man with a dream as big as his life’s problems, the Bradley alum decided the rest of the country should meet him, too.
Tonight, Cohen and Golf Channel will introduce us to Burk with the premiere of “Pipe Dream,” a reality series that follows the talented golfer’s pursuit of the PGA Tour. The project is the brainchild of Cohen and his cousin and business partner, Mitch Gettleman, who discovered Burk’s intriguing story after waiting an hour and a half to play golf with a friend.
“We were meeting our friend, a professional golfer, but he was late because he had to track down Mark, who was wandering the streets,” said Cohen. “Then, when he found him, they had to go to a consignment shop to pick up Mark’s clubs because he had sold them to get money for food.”
As they played, Burk shared his woeful tale of a dramatic breakup with supermodel Beverly Johnson that left him homeless and wrought with legal trouble over accusations of domestic violence, all while hitting every fairway and shooting just three over par. Turns out, Burk was a former golf pro trying to get his life back together and hoping to one day play on the PGA Champions Tour.
“Afterwards, we approached him and said we were interested in his story with the legal stuff, but thought the real story was golf and asked if he’d be up for doing a show,” said Cohen, who has worked on several reality television shows and other productions in Hollywood since graduating from Bradley’s Slane College of Communications and Fine Arts.
At Bradley, Cohen learned about lighting, camera operation, storytelling and editing from broadcast veterans, and every weekend he traveled to Chicago to work on the crew of a sitcom on Fridays and Chicago Bears football games on Sundays for WBBM radio. It was the perfect combination of classroom and field experience to help him launch a career in one of the must cutthroat industries and handle the arduous process of pitching his reality series to production companies across the country.
Cohen and Gettleman prepared a written treatment of their show and got it in the hands of another producer who was meeting with Golf Channel executives in New York City, hoping to get a green light for some of his own work. Their messenger casually suggested the Burk project as one last thing to consider before wrapping up the meeting. After a quick read, and without seeing any video or ever meeting the golf pro, Cohen, or Gettleman, the executives were sold.
“They took a quick look and said, ‘When can we start shooting?’” said Cohen. “We shot the pilot in ten days and three weeks into editing the first act, they picked up the whole series.”
The series includes 10 episodes that will each air 10 times a week on Golf Channel. Viewers will have to keep watching to find out whether the homeless golfer finds success, but Cohen’s achievement is already clear. He hopes ratings will allow for another season and a deeper look into Burk’s determined struggle.
“My impression of homelessness has really changed. Especially with the state of the economy now, someone could be living next door to you one day and the next day they’re in a shelter,” said Cohen. “It’s a sad story, but an inspirational story that we’re trying to tell, about a guy trying to get his life together through golf.”