By Bill Fields
The Legends of Golf, the event that gave senior golf an identity and spawned the Champions Tour, won't end after 36 years after all.
Liberty Mutual Insurance, the tournament's sponsor since its inception in 1978, pulled out after the 2013 edition, leaving an uncertain fate for The Legends. But it will live on, the Champions Tour announcing Tuesday a new sponsor and home for the two-man event.
The newly named Big Cedar Lodge Legends of Golf presented by Bass Pro Shops will be played June 6-8 at the Ridgedale, Mo., resort in the Ozark Mountains after 11 years in Savannah, Ga. While the event will remain a 54-hole team competition, it will make history by becoming the first PGA Tour-sanctioned tournament to use a par-3 course.
Seniors -- the field will feature divisions for ages 50 to 65 and 65 and older -- will split rounds Friday and Saturday on the Tom Fazio-designed 18-hole Buffalo Ridge course and the Top of the Rock nine-hole Par 3 designed by Jack Nicklaus. The final round of the $2.75 million event, also sponsored by the State of Missouri and MasterCard, will be contested solely on the short course.
"At Big Cedar Lodge you have all the elements to make the Legends of Golf a unique tournament and to show fans that golf, even for professionals at the highest level, doesn't have to be played on long, 18-hole courses," said Tom Watson, who designed a large "Himalayas-style" putting course at Top of the Rock and along with Nicklaus, Hale Irwin, Gary Player and Lee Trevino has indicated he will play in the 2014 Legends. "I'm proud to have a lent a hand in the creation of such a special place and am enthusiastic about Top of the Rock and hope this innovative approach will inspire new golfers, who have limited time on their hands, to take up the game."
Golf executives who have been promoting alternative golf experiences to increase participation are exited by The Legends' use of a par-3 course.
"I think it is a wonderful precedent that the Champions Tour will be showcasing par-3 golf as a viable and acceptable option to playing full-length courses," said PGA of America president Ted Bishop.
Mike Davis, executive director of the USGA, applauded "this forward-thinking and significant step, which should indeed have a positive impact on future participation."