Traditionalists don’t need to panic. Rather, they can be comforted by knowing that order has been restored.
One of the ripple effects of the PGA TOUR shifting to a wraparound season in 2013-14 rather than a traditional calendar season is that this week’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions will be the last to start the season. Beginning the season in Hawaii does feel special, particularly at a spectacular resort like Kapalua, but this prestigious tournament is actually returning to its roots on the schedule.
With the 2013-14 PGA TOUR season starting in October next year, the 2014 Hyundai Tournament of Champions in January will fall about four months into the wraparound season. In 1953, the inaugural Tournament of Champions was played in April … or four months into the season. In fact, the Tournament of Champions was either played in late April or early May for its first 33 years. Las Vegas hosted the tournament from 1953 through 1968. The Desert Inn CC hosted the first 14 events before the tournament moved to Stardust CC for its last two years in Las Vegas.
The list of champions in Las Vegas during those glory days of The Rat Pack reads like the roll call at the World Golf Hall of Fame. How about this string of champions:
• 1961 Sam Snead
• 1962 Arnold Palmer
• 1963 Jack Nicklaus
• 1964 Jack Nicklaus
• 1965 Arnold Palmer
• 1966 Arnold Palmer
It’s interesting to note that the entire purse when Snead won in 1961 was $52,000 … which was less than what last place paid at the 2012 Hyundai Tournament of Champions. When Palmer won his final Tournament of Champions title, the purse had nearly doubled to $100,000.
In 1969, the Tournament of Champions moved to Carlsbad, Calif., outside of San Diego to La Costa CC. But the tournament was still played in late April or early May through 1985. And the list of winners continued to be incredibly impressive, including its own string of Hall of Fame winners:
• 1977 Jack Nicklaus
• 1978 Gary Player
• 1979 Tom Watson
• 1980 Tom Watson
• 1981 Lee Trevino
• 1982 Lanny Wadkins
• 1983 Lanny Wadkins
• 1984 Tom Watson
• 1985 Tom Kite
In 1986, The Tournament of Champions moved to the start of the season for the first time. The tournament remained at La Costa CC through 1998 (won by Hall of Fame member Phil Mickelson) before moving to Maui.
The Plantation Course at Kapalua has also seen all-time greats lift trophies. Vijay Singh and Ernie Els (already in the Hall of Fame) and Tiger Woods (destined for World Golf Hall enshrinement) all won there. Tiger’s dramatic playoff victory over Els in 2000 was one of the most exciting tournaments of all time.
So the Hyundai Tournament of Champions will endure no matter where it falls on the schedule. History has shown that this is a great event with a 'Who’s Who' of champions. And next year, it’ll still be hosted on Maui ... which is a great place to start the year … even if it’s four months into the season.