As golf returns to Warwick Hills, here are our favorite memories from the Buick Open
Professional golf returns to Warwick Hill Golf & Country Club in Grand Blanc this week.
The 50-and-older Champions Tour comes to town for the inaugural Ally Challenge, which runs Friday through Sunday.
It's the first touring-pro tournament at Warwick Hills since the Buick Open went belly-up in 2009 amid the automobile-industry collapse.
Warwick Hills was the site of the Buick Open 51 times, from 1958-2009 — with a one-year stop at the Flint Elks Country Club in 1977.
A whopping 69 of this week's 78-player field have participated in at least one Buick Open, including 10 players who won the tournament: Scott Verplank (1988), Dan Forsman (1992), Larry Mize (1993), Fred Couples (1994), Woody Austin (1995), Vijay Singh (1997, 2004, 2005), Billy Mayfair (1998), Tom Pernice (1999), Rocco Mediate (2000) and Kenny Perry (2001, 2008). The field boasts 720 Buick Open starts, 92 top-10s and $19.8 million in earnings.
Before the action gets under way Friday — with the first tee time, at 11:30 a.m., of Austin, Tommy Armour III and Mark Brooks — here's a look back at the tournament over the years.
The Tiger Effect
As a pitchman for Buick, Woods was a staple in Grand Blanc over the years, leading to large crowd sizes. He regularly was in contention, including in 2004 and 2005, before finally breaking through in 2006 — for his 50th career PGA Tour victory, at the ripe old age of 30. During the trophy presentation, he was presented with a large celebratory cake, of which he dipped his finger in the corner to get a taste of the frosting. Woods won it again in 2009, fittingly, the final year of the tournament. That was his 69th career victory. He's won 10 times since.
Kid Rock and Long John
The atmosphere at Warwick Hills always was like a big party, especially for the pro-am tournament. In 2008, the must-watch group including Detroit-area rocker Kid Rock and the PGA Tour's favorite bad boy, John Daly. With Rock donning overalls and Daly almost always with a cigarette in hand, they delighted the fans, especially on one tee, when Daly used a beer can as a tee — and still piped a drive way down the fairway. Daly, apparently, is staying at Rock's house for this week's tournament. Bob Seger, Tom Izzo and other local celebrities were regulars over the years at the Buick pro-am.
Ace on the small screen
Going way back, Warwick Hills actually was the site of the first televised hole-in-one. It happened in the final round of the 1962 tournament, when Jerry Barber launched a 2-iron at the 17th. It landed well short of the green, hit hard and rolled straight into the hole. That was the second ace in Buick Open history; the first happened just two days earlier, when Butch Baird holed out on the par-3 third. A fun fact, Butch's son, Briny, actually made an ace at the same hole, during the 2004 Buick Open.
The Buick Open was known over the years as a birdie paradise, with golfers posting ridiculously low scores, particularly in the later years. Eleven times, the winning score over the four rounds was 20 under par or better, all of those instances between 1985 and 2009. The best showing was by Robert Wrenn in 1987, when he finished 26 under, seven strokes better than the runner-up, Mount Pleasant's Dan Pohl. Wrenn's score, at the time, was the second-best 72-hole score in PGA Tour history, behind Ben Hogan's 27-under finish at the 1945 Portland Open.
One and done
While the Buick Open was able to boast many big-name champions over the years, it also had several who won the Buick Open — and then nothing else. Claiming the Buick Open as their only PGA Tour victory: Brian Bateman in 2007, Wrenn in 1987, Jack Newton in 1978 and Bobby Cole in 1977.
Nineteen times in Buick Open history, the margin between first and second place was a single stroke. Eight other times, the winner was decided in a playoff. One of the most legendary battles occurred in 2004, when Singh and Daly were playing together in the final group. Daly got off to a rocking star, at 5 under through his first four holes, but he cooled off and Singh surged to win the Buick Open for the second time. Singh entered the week struggling mightily, so he ditched the belly-putter for a conventional one, and it paid off with his second Buick title. Woods also was in the mix during that final round, as he was again in 2005, when Singh became the second player ever to successfully defend the Buick Open championship (joining Tony Lema, 1964-65).
Golf isn't usually a contact sport, unless you're in the gallery and a pro has a loose swing. That was the case in 2007, when Kenny Perry hit a 3-wood way right on the par-5 16th — directly into the nose of a local teacher named Linda Gealy. As PGATour.com tells the story, blood was gushing everywhere and Gealy was diagnosed with a broken nose. Perry admitted to the Flint Journal that the incident "shook me up," signed a pairings sheet for Gealy with the inscription, "Sorry," and after returning home following the tournament, he sent her flowers. The good karma paid off, as Perry won the tournament the following year, for the second time.
The 17th hole at Warwick Hills was known as the first "rowdy" hole on the PGA Tour, with fans circling the green several deep — and cheering wildly at the good shots, and booing even louder at the bad shots (rumor has it, beer was readily available). Some started referring to the 17th at the "Second-Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party," a nod to the fans who attend the annual Florida-Georgia football game. The 17th at Warwick eventually was replaced by the 16th at TPC Scottsdale as the Tour's rowdiest hole.