Three courses, a large group of celebrities and a $650,000 purse greet Nationwide Tour players this week for the 16th playing of the BMW Charity Pro-Am at The Cliffs, the seventh time the event has used the celebrity pro-am format.
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|BMW CHARITY PRO-AM WINNERS|
The Cliffs Golf and Country Club's Valley Course in Travelers Rest, S.C., is the host site, with the Keowee Vineyards Course and the Cliffs at Walnut Cove also in the three-course rotation.
Last year Ken Duke won the event by one stroke on his way to Player of the Year honors. He continues to shine this season on the PGA TOUR and is currently 22nd on the FedExCup points list. Last week at THE PLAYERS Championship, Duke earned an invitation into the field as the Nationwide Tour's leading money winner in 2006. Duke tied for 37th.
POPULAR/UNIQUE EVENT: Since its inception in 1992 in nearby Greenville, S.C., the BMW Charity Pro-Am has evolved into a very successful and very popular Nationwide Tour event that features one of the best player fields of the year, plus a strong lineup of celebrities participating in a better-ball competition with the pros.
It is the only event that features more than one course and its purse is the fifth highest on Tour (with the Cox Classic in Omaha). In addition its first-place prize money, the winner will receive the keys to a BMW X5 Sports Activity Vehicle, the first time a car has been awarded to a champion on this Tour. Last year's winner Ken Duke went on to earn Player of the Year honors and led a contingent of 22 players onto the 2007 PGA TOUR.
STRONG FIELD: The field includes all nine of this year's tournament winners and 23 of the current top-25 money winners. With its big purse and prestigious title on the line, a win or top finish this week could have a significant impact on individual player aspirations for a final spot in "The 25" and their 2008 PGA TOUR card.
Only Justin Bolli (No. 8), who received a sponsor exemption into the PGA TOUR's AT&T Classic and PGA Tour of Australasia member David Lutterus (No. 19) are missing. There will be 27 PGA TOUR winners in the BMW field, accounting for 80 TOUR titles.
CELEBRITIES: The celebrity lineup is impressive and includes the likes of Kevin Costner, George Lopez, Gary Valentine, Cheech Marin, George Rogers, Jim Rice, Darius Rucker, Wayne and Janet Gretzky, Brett Hull, John Elway, Sterling Sharpe, Ben Wright and Jennifer Mills. Rucker and his band, Hootie and the Blowfish, will perform on Thursday night at the Bi-Lo Center, as will Costner and his band, Modern West, in downtown Greenville on Broad and Main on Saturday evening. On Friday night, many of the celebrities are scheduled to participate in the Celebrity Walk of Fame, also in downtown Greenville.
GARY PLAYER IN THE FIELD: World Golf Hall of Fame member and Cliffs' spokesperson Gary Player is in the field for the fourth year in a row. At age 71, each year he plays he advances his own record for oldest player to participate in a Nationwide Tour event. The Gary Player Group maintains an office in Greenville.
DAVID FROST MAKES FIRST APPEARANCE: Ten-time PGA TOUR winner David Frost will be playing in his first Nationwide Tour event this week at The Cliffs.
NICHOLAS THOMPSON, "DRIVING" TO THE TOP: More than anything, leading money winner Nicholas Thompson's driving has propelled him to the top of the Nationwide Tour money list. He's currently second in total driving (distance and accuracy combined), averaging 306 yards per drive (12th) and finding the fairway a shade under 71 percent of the time (37th). Last year on the PGA TOUR he finished third in total driving. Solid driving is leading to good results in greens in regulation (68.8 percent/33rd) and a 70.75 scoring average, which puts him 14th.
UGA's JUSTIN BOLLI GETS AT&T CLASSIC INVITE: Justin Bolli, a 1999 University of Georgia graduate, will be playing in this week's PGA TOUR AT&T Classic on a sponsor exemption. A Duluth, Ga., resident, Bolli is off to a strong start on the Nationwide Tour. He is eighth on the money list, aided considerably by a tie for second in the Athens Regional Foundation Classic, played near the UGA campus.
NAVY GRADUATE BILLY HURLEY JOINS MELWOOD FIELD: U.S. Naval Academy graduate and former All-American golfer Billy Hurley has accepted a sponsor exemption to play in next week's Melwood Prince George's County Open, a new event on the Nationwide Tour to be played at the Country Club of Woodmore. Hurley, who grew up in Leesburg, Va., and lives in Annapolis, Md., was named 2004 Byron Nelson National Player of the Year and captain of the United States' Palmer Cup squad that summer.
He turned professional last year, playing in six PGA TOUR and two Nationwide Tour events. He also played in this year's Arnold Palmer Invitational. He joins another popular D.C. area native who is affiliated with the tournament, honorary chairman Fred Funk.
DID YOU KNOW?: Larry Rinker, who is in the BMW Charity Pro-Am at the Cliffs field via a sponsor exemption, was seen recently playing guitar in the band of his friend and Rock and Rock Hall of Famer Stephen Stills at a Jacksonville, Fla., concert.
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