Las Vegas, Nevada (January 6, 2012)–Every year when the PGA Tour's Hyundai Tournament of Champions rolls around, we can't help but harken back to the fifties in Las Vegas. The city founders were just setting the foundation that would allow Las Vegas to blossom into an international city. A major stepping stone in that process? The playing of the inaugural Tournament of Champions in 1953 at the old Desert Inn Golf Club.–By Brian Hurlburt
More than 50 years later, and after several years at the Desert Inn, then a stop at the Stardust Country Club (now Las Vegas National Golf Club), and many years at La Costa, the event has found a home in Hawaii. In addition, the event's name returned to its true roots in 2011 after several years of being called the Mercedes Championship–and one as the SBS Championship. Finally, the Tour marketing folks added "Tournament of Champions" back into the title.
Playing golf in Las Vegas soon? Then re-live history and play the historic Las Vegas National Golf Club, home of the PGA Tour Tournament of Champions in 1967 and 1968. Frank Beard and Don January won the event when it was played at what was then called the Stardust Country Club (named for the Stardust Casino). Click now for the official website of Las Vegas National Golf Club, a Las Vegas golf course located minutes from the Las Vegas Strip. National offers rates under $100 and is also home to the Las Vegas Golf Hall of Fame exhibit which features photos and info about the Tournament of Champions.
The first event in Las Vegas was won by Al Besselink, who collected his $10,000 first prize in silver dollars. A wheelbarrow was rolled out onto the green overflowing with the coins. Contrary to public legend, Besselink didn't lose it all in a gambling spree in the Desert Inn casino in the hours following his victory.
The T.O.C. concept was the brain child of some of Las Vegas' most notable and legendary characters. Among those involved was Moe Dalitz, an alleged mafia mastermind–however he denied that and was never convicted of a crime–who was an owner of the Desert Inn, and Allard Roen, who served as the chairman of the tournament for 38 years. Dalitz and Roen are credited with bringing many "firsts" to Las Vegas, and Dalitz, to this day, is known as "Mr. Las Vegas" by many of the old Vegas guard.
Over the years, the event in Las Vegas was known as much–if not more–for the huge Calcutta wagering. Players in the event would win more money from the Calcutta than they would in actual prize money. It became so legendary that the PGA Tour instituted a policy outlawing Calcutta wagering at tournaments. Nowadays, the tour pros hit a jackpot each week on the PGA Tour with first-place checks of a million+.