PGA’s Vegas Swing Features Guys With Silly Hats And An Amazing Charity
Bryson DeChambeau, winner of the 2020 US Open and 2018 Shriners Hospitals For Children Open, shot a … [+]
In this pandemic-altered sports season, the PGA Tour is playing in Las Vegas the next two weeks – without fans. This week it’s the annual stop at the Tournament Players Club, Summerlin for the Shriners Hospital for Children Open. Next week will be the relocated CJ Cup at Wynn’s exclusive Shadow Creek Resort.
Even without fans, golf is experiencing a renaissance. Tiger Woods’ return to the game in 2018, and his return to glory at the 2019 Masters, started it. And the coronavirus pandemic, ironically, made golf the ideal socially distanced sport. After many courses shut down in March and April, rounds played over the summer have peaked 6 to 20% over the same months last year. Golf equipment sales in July set an all-time record.
During the past oven-like Mojave Desert summer in Vegas, with temperatures topping 100 degrees nearly every day between Memorial Day and Labor Day, when in other years you might not see another group during your round, it has been hard to book a tee time. That’s despite the exodus of tourists during the pandemic and the already slower summer season.
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And it’s not for lack of venues. The Vegas Valley, home to about two million people and host to 50 million tourists in a typical year, hosts about 70 golf courses. The first course opened in 1927, just 22 years after Las Vegas was founded as a railroad stop.
Starting in 1953, the PGA Tour played the Sahara Invitational, Tournament of Champions, and Las Vegas Invitational at various times and venues. Arnold Palmer won in Vegas three times. Jack Nicklaus won six times. In 1996, a young phenom named Tiger Woods won the first of his record-tying 82 professional victories at Las Vegas National – the golf course where FBI agents ran out of gas while eavesdropping on Joe Pesci and his wiseguy pals in the classic Vegas mob flick Casino. If you play Las Vegas National, you can explore the neighborhood of mobsters’ and casino bosses’ former homes through a self-guided tour from each tee. And after you walk off the 18th hole, check out the Vegas Golf Hall of Fame – located in the clubhouse.
Tiger Woods, The Striped One, is one of sport’s most legendary athletes. He’s won a record-tying 82 … [+]
Tiger Woods trophy presentation at Las Vegas National, 1996 (photo courtesy PGA Tour)
In 1998, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas golf team won the NCAA Division I title. UNLV, my master’s degree alma mater, has turned out pros like Masters champ Adam Scott, Chad Campbell, Ryan Moore, and Charley Hoffman
TPC Summerlin, which opened ten miles west of The Strip in 1991, began hosting the annual PGA tournament, which became the Shriners Hospital for Childrens Open. Justin Timberlake hosted it from 2008 to 2012.
LAS VEGAS, NV – OCTOBER 06: The Shriners are the people with the funny hats and the amazing charity … [+]
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Shriners Hospitals for Children, a network of 22 nonprofit hospitals across the US, Canada, and Mexico, began in 1922. Headquarters in Tampa, the hospitals are founded and run by a Freemason group called Shriners. Bequeathed with funny hats and humorous titles like “Imperial Session of the Shriners” and “Imperial Potentate,” the Shriners have built a hospital system with a multibillion-dollar endowment. Over the past century, Shrines has treated over 1.4 million children who needed specialized surgery, free of charge. During the Great Recession, Shriners started accepting insurance payments, but still treats children without charge to their families. Shriners Hospitals joined the Mayo Clinic network in 2015.
If you ever get to watch the tournament in person, on TV, or online, you will see a sight like no other. The first time I saw children with prosthetic limbs carrying the signs for each player group cresting the hill and sauntering across the vast, rolling TPC course, it brought tears of inspiration to my eyes. It is perhaps the only sporting event in the world where the volunteers’ grit and determination overshadow those of the athletes.
Kevin Na won the tournament last year in a playoff. Bryson DeChambeau, who just won the US Open in New York, prevailed in 2018, sinking a spectacular eagle putt from nearly 60 feet on the par-5 16th hole – right in front of the hospitality tent. This week DeChambeau, in his first start since his six-stroke Open victory at Winged Foot for his first major title, opened with a stellar 62 on Thursday. He starts Saturday one stroke off the pace held by five players.
Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlory, and a number of other top players are taking this week off, but many will be teeing it up in North Las Vegas next week. The CJ Cup is being held at Tom Fazio-designed, Steve Wynn-conjured Shadow Creek Resort eight miles north of The Strip. The PGA Tour relocated the CJ Cup here from South Korea due to the country’s 14-day mandatory pandemic quarantine.