Legends of Golf Is Back — at a Jack Nicklaus Par-3 Course!
All good things must come to an end, goes the hoary cliché. The Champions Tour’s Legends of Golf was nearly there. Dropped from the 2014 schedule after Liberty Mutual abandoned their longtime sponsorship, the Legends is now off life support, thanks to a remarkable transfusion. Not only will the Legends of Golf return, but its final-round action will take place on a par-3 course. Let both debates begin.
Earlier this week, the PGA Tour announced that the Legends is back in business. Now called the Big Cedar Lodge Legends of Golf, the tournament will take place June 6-8, 2014 at Big Cedar Lodge in Ridgedale, Mo., south of Branson, near the Arkansas border. There will be two flights, one for players aged 50-64, the other for players aged 65 and over. The 54-hole event will include one round at the Tom Fazio-designed Buffalo Ridge Springs course (a Golf Magazine Top 100 You Can Play course formerly known as Branson Creek), and two rounds, including the final round, at Top of the Rock, a nine-hole par-3 course created by Jack Nicklaus.
Golf won’t be the only attraction, either. Festivities for the pros and amateurs during the week will include archery, fishing and shooting. If this all sounds like fun, well, that’s the idea. Bass Pro Shops is a presenting sponsor and its founder, Johnny Morris, owns the resort and golf courses that comprise the tournament venues.
The Champions Tour could use a shot in the arm, and this is just the kind of event that will help boost its profile among golf fans. Commitments have already come in from Nicklaus, Hale Irwin, Gary Player, Lee Trevino and Missouri favorite son Tom Watson, who designed Top of the Rock’s 70,000 square-foot “Himalayan” putting course.
“Top of the Rock offers a one-of-a-kind experience,” said Morris in a statement. “We want to showcase everything the Ozarks has to offer.”
Whether you regard the Champions Tour as pure competition, pure entertainment or something in between, there’s no question it has allowed players a chance to extend their careers in a way no other sport offers and has enabled fans to enjoy their golf heroes in a more accessible ways than what the PGA Tour provides. Golf cherishes its history, and where senior golf is concerned, there’s nothing more historic than the Legends of Golf. This is the tournament that spawned the Senior Tour, from its well-received 1978 debut at Onion Creek in Austin, Texas to its unforgettable follow-up in 1979, when Julius Boros and Roberto De Vicenzo traded birdies with Art Wall and Tommy Bolt for five playoff holes before Boros/De Vicenzo won it on the sixth extra hole. The Legends alternated venues and formats for many years, occasionally to its detriment, in terms of national interest, but if a Champions Tour continues to exist, it’s gratifying that the Legends is a part of it — and now a revitalized part.
The second story here is the decision to play the final round on a par-3 course, Top of the Rock. Some purists don’t even consider such tracks to be real golf. Yet, the greatest par-3 courses are every bit as scenic and thought-provoking as their bigger brothers — they just typically lack the critical element of driver play. PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem is convinced.
“We believe the inclusion of this dramatic short course will demonstrate to a time-crunched world that par-3 golf is fun, entertaining and a worthy alternative for golfers,” said Finchem in a statement. “This will help move the needle on growing the game of golf. We need to think in terms of shorter, faster and more fun.”
While the Legends is expected to be the first PGA Tour-sanctioned event to use a par-3 course, there are plenty of examples of the pros competing on par-3 courses. Scottsdale, Arizona long hosted the Mountain Shadows Open, a late December event where pros could fire up their competitive juices on a par-56 (16 par-3s, 2 par-4s) prior to the start of the PGA Tour season. More notable is the Palm Beach Par-3 course, a 1950s Dick Wilson design on the ocean that was revamped by Raymond Floyd in 2009. Joann Carner played host to many LPGA Pro-Ams at Palm Beach Par-3, and Jesper Parnevik used to tune up his game there. In a 1961 mixed professional LPGA event called the Royal Poinciana Invitational at Palm Beach Par-3, Louise Suggs scored one for the ladies when she beat Sam Snead, who finished third in the event. More recently, Rory McIlroy would tune up for the European Tour Dubai event by romping around the superb Dubai Creek par-3 course with his buddies.
The new Legends of Golf development is good for the Tour, good for par-3 courses and good for golf. Betting favorite? Lee Trevino. Not only did he score one of the most famous aces in history at the island green 17th at PGA West’s TPC Stadium course during the 1987 Skins Game, but also holed in one at the 150-yard, par-3 7th at Treetops Resort’s Threetops course in Michigan, Golf Magazine’s Number 1-ranked par-3 course, back in 2001, during the nationally televised ESPN Par-3 Shootout.
We’re not sure, however, who the early line favors in the archery, fishing and shooting events.