January 6, 2009–As the start of the 2010 PGA Tour season is unveiled this week with the SBS Championship, those with historical knowledge will remember this event has its roots right here on Las Vegas golf courses. The SBS is the new incarnation of the Tournament of Champions, an event that was first played in Las Vegas and the Desert Inn in 1953. The event later moved to Las Vegas National Golf Club. Cool news? You can play pretty much the same Las Vegas National layout that the legends played in 1967 and 1968.
“It was at La Costa for a number of years following Las Vegas, and now it’s at Kapalua in Hawaii so when you put Las Vegas National in with those names it kind of tells you what kind of golf course this is,” says Scotty Greer, general manager at Las Vegas National. “It’s a superstar among golf courses and will continue to be pretty special.” Las Vegas National was known as the Stardust Country Club when the T of C was played there, and the course has also been called Sahara, Sahara National, and the Las Vegas Hilton Country Club over the years.
The course is located minutes from the Las Vegas Strip, and a current perusal of this Las Vegas golf course's official website shows Las Vegas National rates for visitors ranging from $40-$109, making the course one of the more cost-friendly in the Las Vegas Golf Region. Also currently advertised are Las Vegas golf packages starting at $339 which include three nights stay and two rounds of golf at Las Vegas National Golf Club.
The SBS, then the Tournament of Champions, started out at the Desert Inn in 1953 (through 1966) before moving to the Stardust Country Club (now Las Vegas National) for two years. The two events at Las Vegas National saw Frank Beard and Don January as the winners. The tournament then moved to La Costa Country Club before the move to Kapalua on Maui in 1999 so the venues for this prestigious event have been as impressive as the winners. Al Besselink won the original event in 1953, and contrary to public opinion, he didn't lose his $10,000 purse in the casinos.
“This is a traditional golf course with a history that dates back to 1961 when it opened,” says Greer, a longtime PGA of America professional in Las Vegas. “You can still come out here and see and re-live the history and that’s pretty special.”
How special? Well, because of the course’s proximity to the famed Vegas Strip, you never know who might show up to play. “We’ve had the likes of Nicklaus, Palmer and Woods play here but we’ve also had many entertainers,” Greer says. “I was playing out here about 1971 and we had a group come up behind us on No.1 (now the 10th hole) and we let them play through. We didn’t know who they were but when they came up it was Sean Connery, Buddy Hackett and Jill St. John. Talk about a rose between two thorns.”
Las Vegas National was one of three Las Vegas golf courses used in the rotation of the PGA Tour's 1996 Las Vegas Invitational when Tiger Woods won his first PGA Tour event. And a house on the 18th fairway was used in the filming of the movie Casino, plus the neighborhood around the course was, at one time, one of THE places to live in Las Vegas. The area has aged, but the history still lives, with Greer saying that this Las Vegas golf course is one of the most historic of any golf course.
“You can still come out here in 2010 and see what it was like back in the 60s,” Greer says. “To me, what we have here is pretty special and we need to get the word out even more.” One other note about Las Vegas National is that the course is the home of the Las Vegas Golf Hall of Fame exhibit which features photos, stories and memorabilia about the glorious history of golf in Las Vegas. Admission is free to all Las Vegas golfers, and worth some time to view. –Bill Bowman. Bowman is the former Editor of VegasGolfer Magazine, and a writer who now covers all things Las Vegas golf for multiple publications.