Legends of Golf Finds New Sponsor, Moves to Branson, Adds Par-3 Course

Kathy BissellCorrespondent IFebruary 27, 2014

Legendary Roberto De Vincenzo who won1979 Legends of Golf with Julius Boros.
Legendary Roberto De Vincenzo who won1979 Legends of Golf with Julius Boros.EDIIE KOLENOVSKY/Associated Press

The Legends of Golf, the tournament that started the Champions Tour back in 1978, has a reeled in a new sponsor, moved to a new location and will add a par-3 course to the competition. Champions Tour players John Cook and Tom Watson were on hand in Branson, Mo. for the announcement, as was PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. After the 2013 Legends of Golf, it became apparent that Liberty Mutual, which had sponsored the event since its inception, would no longer be involved. The PGA Tour, with support from the Champions Tour membership, now has Bass Pro Shops to underwrite the event.

According to Champions Tour player John Cook, not having the Legends event was unacceptable.

"This is the most important event that we have.  This started (the Champions Tour) and this is why we're playing because of these great Legends, and we couldn't let this thing go away," Cook said.

"The continuation of the Legends of Golf is very important to our Tour and to the Champions Tour players who enjoy it so much," Tim Finchem said about the event. "Tommy Bolt, a Hall of Famer, paired with Art Wall in 1979, the second playing of the Legends of Golf, in a playoff against Roberto De Vincenzo and Julius Boros, (was) one of the great television golf happenings in the history of the game."

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The playoff went six holes and captivated television audiences when it ran into prime-time television.

Jack Nicklaus, Julius Boros, Arnold Palmer
Jack Nicklaus, Julius Boros, Arnold PalmerLarry Stoddard/Associated Press

"I can remember watching that playoff," Cook recalled. "We were at the Chris Schenkel Intercollegiate.  We were supposed to be going to dinner, and the playoff kept going and going and going and going, and they're all making birdies.  And we're going, look at these old guys.  We were in college, but this was fascinating.  That being the forerunner to The Senior Tour, Champions Tour, that I never thought I'd ‑ that's 30 years down the road - and here I am playing it."

The new Legends of Golf event will play on a regulation 18-hole course known as Buffalo Springs, which was designed by Tom Fazio. There will also be a 9-hole, par-three designed by Jack Nicklaus. Both are part of Big Cedar Lodge, a resort in Branson, Mo.

"As far as what's going to happen in June, we have a tournament here which is unique," Tom Watson explained. "We're going to be playing alternate shot or foursome or twosome play.  We're going to be playing best ball, and we're going to play a scramble format.  All three types of formats, golfers around this country and around the world understand what those are, and it's going to be unique to see the pros play some other type of format besides just individual stroke play."

According to the Champions Tour, the Legends of Golf will still be two-man teams.

"I can't wait for my partner, Andy North and I to take on Cookie and the rest of the crew," Watson added.

In a combination of courses that sounds like a page out of Ripley's Believe It or Not, here's how the event will be played:

Art Wall and Tommy Bolt
Art Wall and Tommy BoltAnonymous/Associated Press

Champions Tour ( 50-65) and Legend Division ( 65+) players will both be included in the event. They will play the 18-hole Buffalo Ridge course one day and then two rounds of the 9-hole, par three the next day. All competitors in both ( Champions and Legends) will play two rounds on the par-three, 9-hole course on the final day.

A Champions Tour representative noted that the raw score may be a little different because par at the par-three course is 54, not 72, but all players will play 54 holes of golf.  

"As an industry, we need to come up with new golf experiences, whether that is 60 minutes or 90 minutes, whether it's six holes, 12 holes, a par‑3 course, bigger holes.  We need to think in terms of shorter, faster, and more fun," Jack Nicklaus said in support of the format.

The inclusion of a par-three course is a first for the any professional tour, although a made-for-TV event was held at the Treetops Resort in Michigan using a par three several years ago. It included a handful of PGA Tour and Champions Tour players and was not a full field, Champions Tour event. The Masters has a traditional par-three event on Augusta National's short course every year on the Wednesday prior to the tournament. That has been televised in recent years on ESPN.

"As you know, the Legends brought to life the viability of a golf tour for senior professionals, laying the ground work for what is now known as the Champions Tour," Nicklaus added.  "Now, 35 years later, it is once again setting the precedent by introducing the viability of a par‑three course in an official PGA Tour sanctioned competition.”

The Legends of Golf moves from its former spot in April to June. Clips of the old Legends of Golf tournaments will be shown during the telecast which will be on The Golf Channel.

Kathy Bissell is a Golf Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.