Pro golf returns to Warwick Hills with PGA Tour Champions event
Major men's professional golf is poised to return to the area's annual sports calendar.
On Tuesday, officials at Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club in Grand Blanc will announce that the swanky former home of the PGA Tour's Buick Open will soon host a Tour Champions tournament, according to a source with direct knowledge of the PGA Tour's plans.
The source spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly. When reached by The Detroit News, Warwick Hills general manager John Carlson would only confirm that there is a press conference Tuesday.
The Tour Champions -- founded in 1980 as the Senior PGA Tour and made up of pro golfers age 50-and-older -- is run under the PGA Tour umbrella.
It's unclear when the new tournament would be held, or who the presenting sponsor would be, though a representative from Ally Financial will attend Tuesday's press conference.
It's not clear which Tour Champions tournament's spot is becoming available, but there has been some speculation in recent weeks that the Twin Cities in Minnesota could be getting a PGA Tour event as early as next year, in which case they would give up their Tour Champions event. This year's 3M Championship in Blaine, Minn., was Aug. 4-6.
The Tour Champions schedule runs from January through November, though Michigan's window is limited by weather. The Buick Open was held in July or August.
The Buick Open always was one of the most popular stops on the PGA Tour, for players and fans alike. It ran from 1958 until 2009, when it lost its presenting sponsor when the auto industry fell on hard times.
Since the economy has improved in recent years, there have been significant efforts to get the PGA Tour back -- either at Warwick Hills, or at Detroit Golf Club -- but nothing has materialized, as the PGA Tour's schedule is packed, and spots rarely open up.
The PGA Tour's schedule, though, will have to shuffle in the coming years, with the PGA of America announcing that the PGA Championship would move from August to May starting in 2019.
The Tour Champions isn't nearly the draw that the PGA Tour is, of course, but it is seeing an uptick in popularity again as some of the game's most recognizable names start turning 50. John Daly joined in 2016, two-time Buick Open champion Vijay Singh in 2013, and such big stars Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson turn 50 in the next few years. Fred Couples, a former Buick Open champion, remains very popular on the senior circuit.
The Tour Champions' popularity generally rises and falls every few years based upon incoming talent. Its heyday was when Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino and "Chi Chi" Rodriguez were regular players, and another significant upswing could be on the horizon.
That would make it ideal for Warwick Hills to lock in its spot on the calendar. On the flip side, Warwick Hills would appeal to the Tour Champions because, for decades, it supported the Buick Open with huge ticket numbers and a passionate, and sometimes rowdy, fan base soaking up the action. Senior tour players' familiarity with Warwick Hills from its PGA Tour days could assure an appealing field, as well.
While some of the game's truly elite players prefer to keep playing PGA Tour events well into their 50s, most still are drawn to at least playing a limited schedule on the Tour Champions, because the money's good and easier to win as the competition isn't nearly as stiff, the courses are friendlier and usually shorter, and most tournaments are three rounds instead of four. In other words, many golfers, it's a good buffer before full-on retirement.
Michigan has held Tour Champions major tournaments over the years, but hasn't had a regular stop since the Farmers Charity Classic, held in Grand Rapids from 1986 to 2004, and the Senior Players Championship, held in Dearborn from 1990 to 2006. This would be the third Tour Champions annual tournament event in Michigan history. The PGA Tour also has held three, and the LPGA Tour seven.
Michigan currently hosts two LPGA Tour events, in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor, and nearby Toledo has another.
MICHIGAN’S GOLF HISTORY
PGA Tour, PGA Tour Champions and LPGA Tour events in Michigan:
Buick Open – 1958-2009 (Flint, Grand Blanc)
Michigan Golf Classic – 1969 (Walled Lake)
Motor City Open – 1948-50, 1952, 1954, 1956, 1959, 1962 (Northville, Royal Oak, Redford, West Bloomfield)
Senior Players Championship – 1990-2006 (Dearborn)
Farmers Charity Classic – 1986-2004 (Grand Rapids, Ada)
LPGA Volvik Championship – 2016-present (Ann Arbor)
Meijer LPGA Classic – 2014-present (Grand Rapids)
Oldsmobile Classic – 1992-2000 (East Lansing)
Lady Stroh’s Open – 1978-99 (Dearborn)
Yankee Women’s Open – 1964-67 (Grand Blanc)
Wolverine Open – 1955, 1957, 1960, 1963 (Bloomfield Hills, Grosse Pointe Woods, Mount Clemens)
Battle Creek Open – 1955 (Battle Creek)