Las Vegas, Nevada (January 5, 2011)–The golfers on the course will get the most attention this week in Hawaii during the playing of the PGA Tour's Hyundai Tournament of Champions, but fans of Las Vegas golf are happy to see a title change for the event in 2011. For the first time since 1993, the name includes the words "Tournament of Champions", being altered from the SBS Championship title. The inaugural Tournament of Champions was played in 1953 in Las Vegas at the Desert Inn Country Club, and was played at Las Vegas golf courses through 1968. What is now Las Vegas National Golf Club–then called the Stardust Country Club–was the host course for the final two years it was played in Las Vegas. —By Brian Hurlburt.
Late in 2010, the Las Vegas Golf Hall of Fame recognized this groundbreaking tournament by inducting the champions and committee members into the Hall, which physically is located in the clubhouse of Las Vegas National Golf Club. Al Besselink, the first champ, was on hand at the official ceremony, and former champs Jack Nicklaus and Gene Littler sent along video tributes. Also speaking that night was PGA Tour Vice President Rick George, who mentioned during his comments that the PGA Tour was excited to bring back the "Tournament of Champions" moniker. Shortly after that event, George started his new job as an executive with the Texas Rangers, but was speaking that night on behalf of PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.
Las Vegas National Golf Club is one of the more historic Las Vegas golf courses, and in addition to hosting two T.O.C. tournaments, was also the site for the LPGA Championship from 1961-66 (a major) and the PGA Tour's Sahara Invitational for many years. This resort Las Vegas golf course is located minutes from the Las Vegas Strip, and is a traditional, oasis style course that winds through the Paradise Palms neighborhood that was built by the group that also created the Tournament of Champions. The developers were Moe Dalitz, Irwin Molasky, Allard Roen and Merv Adelson. Roen served as the tournament chairman for 38 years. The same group of Las Vegans also developed La Costa in California, where the T.O.C. was played from 1969-1998.
Besides bringing the name back, Hyundai begins the first year of its sponsorship and had a role in bringing the new, old name to the event. "It's heritage more than anything else," Dave Zuchowski, Executive Vice President of Sales for Hyundai, told the media this week. "The most important thing for us is the affiliation with champions. The whole idea of bringing the best golfers in the world to compete and Hyundai being involved, and we think nothing says that better than Tournament of Champions. I think the heritage goes back to 1953 or something like that with the name. They had moved away from it and we thought a very important part of this was getting the Tournament of Champions back in.
"The whole concept of champions and a great competition is really sort of where we are as a brand right now. It's a good fit and it's come together quickly. I think the negotiations were September; the contract was signed in October. So this has really come together quickly. It's a three-year gig for us and we hope to grow it from there. We are learning as we go, along with the transition of the name sponsor, has been very smooth. We are really happy with the way things are going. We are really excited about the prospects of where we can go with this."
In 2011, there are three players in the field who have deep ties to Las Vegas golf courses. All three played college golf at UNLV, and two of them still live in the Las Vegas. Charley Hoffman and Bill Lunde were childhood friends in San Diego before attending UNLV (helping the school to the 1998 NCAA title). They live in the same neighborhood in Las Vegas. Hoffman won the 2010 Deutsche Bank Championship while Lunde won the Turning Stone Resort Championship. Scott also played briefly at UNLV and won the 2010 Valero Texas Open. He no longer lives in Las Vegas.