Las Vegas, Nevada (January 4, 2013)–This week marks the 61st playing of the PGA Tour's Tournament of Champions. And those paying attention know that the first 16 of those were played in Las Vegas. The first 14–starting in 1953 and won by Al Besselink–were played at the old Desert Inn Country Club while numbers 15 and 16 were played at the Stardust Country Club, which is now known as Las Vegas National Golf Club. Frank Beard won in 1967 while Don January won in 1968. Click now for the official website of Las Vegas National, a Las Vegas resort course located just minutes from the Strip. The course maintains a historic feel that will be enjoyed by all who play it. –By Brian Hurlburt
The tournament is now played in Hawaii and known as the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. But it all started in Las Vegas and was complete with the biggest prize in golf (debuting at $10,000), and celebrities and big names running all over the place. The tournament was created by the same group that built what is now Las Vegas National Golf Club.
Las Vegas National Golf Club is a true, historic Las Vegas golf experience. In addition to the playing of the Tournament of Champions at the course, the LPGA held a major there from 1961-66 and in 1996, the course was one of three Las Vegas golf courses played when Tiger Woods won his first PGA Tour event at the Las Vegas Invitational. Click now to reserve your Las Vegas golf tee times at Las Vegas National. Through February 14, 2013, rates for Las Vegas visitors are never more than $99 and start at just $39.
In 1967, Beard withstood a charging Arnold Palmer to survive and win. The following is an excerpt from City of Champions: The History of Professional Golf in Las Vegas about that tournament:
From City of Champions: "Don Welch, head pro at the Dunes C.C., had an interesting memory of the final round of the 1967 T of C played at Stardust C.C. Frank Beard held a six stroke lead on the field, and eight over Arnold Palmer, after 54 holes. But as Beard was hitting practice shots to loosen up before Sunday’s round, Palmer was devouring the Stardust’s front nine. Arnie eagled the first hole, parred the second, and made birdies on three and four. Cheers kept erupting from various points on the front nine each time 'the General' would post another birdie.
"By the time Beard reached the first tee, Palmer was six under par through eight holes and Frank’s once comfortable lead had been trimmed to two strokes. Welch, who was then head pro in charge of both the Desert Inn and Stardust courses, remembered Beard just shaking his head each time the roars went up. He was helpless against Arnie’s flurry … until he teed off. Palmer eventually shot the course record of 64 with, believe it or not, a four-putt on the 15th hole! To Beard’s credit, he endured by shooting a last round 71. An eight-foot birdie putt on the final hole, which did a 360-degree circle of the hole and fell in, did in Arnie by a shot, and gave Beard the $20,000 first prize."
There is much more about the original Tournament of Champions in City of Champions: The History of Professional Golf in Las Vegas, a coffee table book authored by this writer and Jack Sheehan. Click now for the official book website to purchase your copy. Proceeds benefit The First Tee of Southern Nevada.