Nearly 37 years ago, two dozen golf legends gathered at Onion Creek Country Club in Austin, Texas, for a two-man team competition steeped in nostalgia but with PGA TOUR credibility called, appropriately, the Legends of Golf.
With Sam Snead and Gardner Dickinson beating Kel Nagle and Peter Thomson by one shot, and Julius Boros and Roberto DeVicenzo winning the next year in a six-hole playoff over Art Wall and Tommy Bolt, the seeds for the Senior PGA Tour were planted. Players loved the camaraderie, coupled with the serious competition that came with solid purses (perspective: Snead won $50,000 for his 1978 win from the then-gigantic $400,000 purse, he bagged just over $620,000 for his entire TOUR career). Sound familiar?
Today we know it as the Champions Tour, and that first event still exists today -- the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf. What was once a 12-team gathering now has 72 two-man teams, collectively owning 979 PGA TOUR titles and 77 major championships.
There's a lot to the week-long event, so PGATOUR.COM asked six-time Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf champion Andy North to help explain the particulars of the Liberty Mutual of Golf's three divisions, the format and what keeps the game's greatest players returning year after year to the Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa in Savannah, Ga.
The tournament begins Monday and Tuesday with the Demaret Division, consisting of players 70 and over. Bob Charles and Gary Player won the division last year and return to defend against other notable teams including Lee Elder and Charlie Sifford, Mike Hill and Lee Trevino and Don January and Gene Littler.
The week's other unofficial 36-hole division (prize money is awarded but it is unofficial and no Schwab Cup Championship points are earned) is the Raphael Division, playing Friday-Saturday and featuring players who may not play full Champions Tour schedules and/or are otherwise ineligible for the official 54-hole competition.
North won the Raphael Division for three straight years from 2005-07 with Tom Watson, during a time when the official Legends Division featured individual stroke play. Their partnership, like many, is based in friendship.
"You try to play with a friend, somebody you've played practice rounds with your whole life," North said. "Tom is one of my good friends, that was a real simple deal. Our caddies are good friends, our wives are friends."
In 2008 the official-competition Legends Division returned to the team format, where it remains today. In each of the last three years the winning team has featured one member of the World Golf Hall of Fame. Last year it was Nick Price, teamed with Mark O'Meara. They defeated former Ohio State teammates John Cook and Joey Sindelar in a playoff.
The Legends Division plays Friday through Sunday.
All divisions play better ball, a format lending itself to buckets of birdies. Longtime partners Watson and North, Legends winners in 2008, had a streak of 257 holes without a bogey.
"We went a long time and played a lot of good golf," North said. "We have truly played so much golf with each other, we each know how the other's going to react. If you know your partner's in trouble, maybe you take less of a risk than some other time. We both have a lot of confidence in each other.
"The biggest thing is that one guy can't be two. Both guys have to put it in play, both put it on the green and have two putts. Two putts from 25 feet are better than one from 20 -- you want to both keep having chances. You never know when you'll make one."
The Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf moved to Savannah Harbor in 2003 after a four-year run at the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla. The course was designed by Robert Cupp and Sam Snead and is a 7,087-yard par-72.
"It's a wonderful golf course, always in good shape. Some years there's more rough, and if the wind blows it can be difficult," North said. "If the wind doesn't blow you can make some birdies, and the greens are good so if you take those factors into combination, you can make some birdies."