The McGladrey Classic continues to draw more elite players each year

November 06, 2013
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- The first snow of the year fell across the Midwest a couple weeks ago. The NFL and college football are deep into their seasons.

But on Wednesday at Sea Island Golf Club, the sun sparkled off St. Simons Sound behind a driving range that was packed with players from end to end -- so much so that Webb Simpson had to find a spot next to a pro-am participant.

"It's beautiful," the former U.S. Open champion said as he prepared for The McGladrey Classic. "I love playing golf tournaments that are near the beach.

"The golf course is awesome. It presents challenges and you have to think. There's a lot of reasons to come here."

Given a busy schedule with tournaments around the world, choosing where to play isn’t always easy. But tournament host Davis Love III also makes it difficult to say no to playing here.

Earlier in the week, he threw a huge pro-am party at his house. He’s also hosting a handful of players there for the week and the barn out back will even play host to a petting zoo.

"I hear there's a pig, so that's going to be pretty exciting," said Love, whose tournament is now in its fourth year. "There was a lot of work going on, a lot of sleepless nights from my team and my family."

There was also the addition of FedExCup points -- the winner now earns 500 -- and a significant increase in prize money. This year’s purse is $5.5 million, up from $4 million a year ago.

The impact on the community isn’t lost, either.

Love’s "Birdies for Love" program has raised more than $450,000 in the community and a Wiffle Ball game earlier in the week attracted a number of players, again all for a good cause.

"There's so much going on with our event that it just grows and grows every year," Love said. "Pretty much everything we've wanted to do (McGladrey) supported and helped us do it."

So, too, have a number of players who now call this area home.

"It starts with the people, and it starts with Davis,” said Zach Johnson, who moved here five years ago and lives so close to the golf course he could walk to it. “I think from there you go to Sea Island Company and what that company has done from a golf standpoint, the amenities, the golf courses, the practice facilities, the infrastructure. 

"From a work standpoint, I've got three or four places I can go and I can get a lot of work done, with Frederica, Ocean Forest, certainly here. The amenities are great.”

The tournament hasn’t been without its challenges, though -- specifically this year's date.

The last two PGA TOUR stops were in Asia, which made for a long commute for a few players -- Boo Weekley, Brian Gay and Scott Piercy all made the trip from last week’s World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in China.

Next year, though, The McGladrey Classic will move back to earlier in October, before the Asia events, which should make it easier on players.

But every year the tournament grows -- this year’s field features Matt Kuchar, Johnson, Simpson and Darren Clarke, among others -- it also puts pressure on its host.

"One thing I learned from being on the board so many times with the TOUR is you can't go backwards," Love said. "The challenge is to keep it going.

"We had a huge purse increase, but we're going to have to sustain that momentum with charity and with purse. In a small town that's a challenge. That's why so many little things like Wiffle Ball tournaments and Birdies For Love and little things like that aren't that little. They add up in the end. Every volunteer, every little sponsorship you sell, every pro-am group goes to the bottom line, ends up with charity. They basically sell for six months, seven months and then you build the tournament and have the tournament for about two months. And the selling part is always the hard part.”

What has made it easier is also the work that Bill Jones III has done since taking the reins of the Sea Island Company.

He brought in Tom Fazio and Reese Jones and built what Love calls “an incredible place to work on your golf game.”

Added Love: “And obviously it's a great place to live.”

And as it turns out for a number of players a pretty good tournament to play, too.