HERE’S A BRIEF HISTORY of the event currently known as the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, the PGA Tour’s season opener. The tournament that features an all-winners field has been played in early January at Maui’s Kapalua Resort since 1999. Prior to that, the event spent three decades at the La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, California (outside of San Diego). I used to go to the tournament in the 1980s and once caddied in the pro-am. The feisty Raymond Floyd was our pro.
But did you know the original home of the Tournament of Champions was Las Vegas, Nevada?
It began in 1953 at the Desert Inn Country Club. Las Vegas was in the midst of a development boom, but Las Vegas golf was nowhere near what it is today. Al Besselink won the first edition. (You get bonus points if you’ve heard of Besselink, who I saw last year in North Carolina.) Art Wall Jr. won in 1954. Then Gene Littler reeled off three straight victories in the desert. In those days the Tournament of Champions was played in late April just before the Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas. The event moved down the Las Vegas Strip to the Stardust Country Club in the mid 1960s.
Nearly a half century after Littler’s win streak, Stuart Appleby snagged three consecutive trophies in Hawaii. Jack Nicklaus leads with five TOC titles, claimed from 1963 to 1977.
The Desert Inn Country Club is gone. Built in 1961, the Stardust Country Club is now the Las Vegas National Golf Club. Of course, today there are dozens of new Las Vegas golf courses. And all bogeys, double bogeys and “others” made in Vegas stay in Vegas.
−The Armchair Golfer
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