Ally Challenge looks to bring the noise on Warwick Hills' signature hole
Grand Blanc — The activity Thursday at Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club was a tad busier than other pro golf tournaments that have been played since the restart, with the Champions Tour the first major tour to bring pack the popular pro-ams.
Still, the quiet remains a startling reminder that while sports are back, they'll never be all the way until the fans return.
The Ally Challenge, meanwhile, is trying to get the fans involved, albeit virtually, and help make the par-3 17th hole as raucous as it can be without actual fans in the grandstands.
Officials for the third annual Champions Tour tournament are asking fans to submit their "wildest cheer" at rowdygallery.com, with plans to use the best ones over a sound system at the green throughout the three-day event, which runs Friday through Sunday.
A giant video board has been placed on the hole to display the cheers.
"They are coming out with some great ideas to keep the thing interesting," said Ernie Els, the four-time major champion who won the last Champions Tour tournament before the shutdown, back in early March. "It will be nice and cool to keep people interested and have something new out there.
"I remember the hole back in the day. That was a rowdy hole."
The 17th hole, during Warwick Hills' run on the PGA Tour with the Buick Open, was considered one of the wildest holes in all of professional golf — perhaps only trailing the par-3 16th in Scottsdale, Arizona. It's lost some luster since Warwick has become a Champions Tour site, but it remains the place to be seen, and more importantly, heard.
Most players in this week's 81-person field played the old Buick Open, and they all remember that hole, which plays about 150 yards, over water, with bunkers in play.
There are seven former Buick Open champions in the field: Woody Austin, Billy Mayfair, Rocco Mediate, Larry Mize, Tom Pernice, Jr., Kenny Perry and Vijay Singh.
"I was kind of wondering what they're doing," said Singh, a three-time major champion. "There's a lot of little TVs going in the back there, monitors. That will be different.
"Like to see how it looks like tomorrow."
Jim Furyk, who turned 50 on May 12, is making his Champions Tour debut this week, while still keeping a pretty regular schedule on the PGA Tour.
"I told my wife last night, like the first day of the Tour year every year, I always say it's like the first day of school. You're kind of excited, you get a little nervous, you haven't played in a while," said Furyk, a former U.S. Open champion.
"Coming out here for the first time it was like the first day of high school, but I just was homeschooled for the last five years. I haven't seen any of my old friends in a long time. And so it took me a while to even make it to the range or putting green yesterday, just saying hi to folks. I missed a lot of the guys."
While Furyk was speaking to the media Thursday, fellow pro Billy Andrade walked over and presented him a welcome gift: a bottle of Tito's vodka, which Furyk said he would return to the first tee where Andrade grabbed it from.
Furyk won the Buick Open in 2003, but said just as good of a memory came in 2001, when he finished tied for second to qualify for the U.S. Ryder Cup team (that Ryder Cup would be played in 2002, postponed a year after Sept. 11). Furyk made birdie on the 17th hole, and the place erupted.
"The crowd behind started the 'USA' chant on the way to 18," he said. "They knew I made the Ryder Cup team. If was pretty cool."
Furyk had eight top-10s in 15 Buick Open starts.
Chips and divots
Tom Gillis, the Lake Orion native who is in his third year on the Champions Tour, is back in action this week, and was thrilled that the tour kept the pro-ams — where four business-types plunk down some good cash to play with a pro.
The events raise a lot of money for charity, and Gillis loves to yuck it up with folks.
On Thursday, he got paired up with several employees from Carl's Golfland, with his foursome talking on the first tee about winning the thing. Gillis tried to downplay the expectations. He said he's won one pro-am in decades as a touring pro.
He did get off to a good start Thursday, with a birdie at the par-4 second hole, rolling in a 10-foot putt after hitting his wedge close.
... Some field notes: There are seven members of the World Golf Hall of Fame, 18 players with a PGA Tour major victory, and 23 players with a Champions Tour victory.
... The tournament had two players pull out Thursday: Brandt Jobe and Kent Jones. No explanation was given. Replacing them were Tommy Armour III and Dudley Hart.
... Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo was at Warwick Hills on Wednesday, playing in a more-exclusive pro-am.