The Tradition, a Champions Tour major championship that began in 1989 as a springtime gathering fashioned loosely after the Masters but has felt more like a regular senior event in recent years, will start a new chapter in a new location in 2011.
The tournament, sponsored for the eighth and final time last week by Jeld-Wen in Oregon, will be held at Shoal Creek GC in Birmingham, Ala., May 5-8. Under a three-year agreement being announced Monday, it will be known as the the Regions Tradition and be sponsored by Regions Financial Corporation, which has been the title sponsor of the Champions Tour event in Hoover, Ala., since 2006, a successful senior stop that was known as the Bruno's Memorial Classic from 1992-2005.
For Shoal Creek, ranked 50th on Golf Digest's ranking of America's 100 Greatest Course, it will be the Jack Nicklaus-designed course's first tour event since the 1990 PGA Championship. At that time, Shoal Creek's all-white membership prompted a firestorm of controversy after club founder Hall Thompson talked about the club not having any black members in an interview with a local reporter prior to the 1990 PGA.
Amid a national debate about exclusionary membership practices at private clubs, Shoal Creek accepted its first black member, Louis Willie, and the tournament, the club's second PGA, went on as scheduled. But it didn't host another national event until the 2008 U.S. Junior Amateur. Hall Thompson's son, Mike, is now in charge at Shoal Creek, whose current minority members include former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
"We're very excited to move this major championship to Alabama and Shoal Creek," said Champions Tour president Mike Stevens. "The Greater Birmingham area has embraced and shown tremendous support for the Champions Tour over the years, and delivering a major championship to this community was a natural fit."
From 1989-2001 the Tradition was held at GC of Desert Mountain in Scottsdale. While the spring weather could be iffy -- in 1999 the event was shortened to 36 holes because of snow -- Jack Nicklaus boosted its profile by winning four of the first eight and making it one of his annual senior appearances.
After being played at Arizona's Superstition Mountain G&CC in 2002, when Jeld-Wen took over as sponsor the Tradition moved to Aloha, Ore., for four years and was played the last four years at Crosswater Club in Sunriver, Ore.
While Jeld-Wen enjoyed entertaining its clients in Sunriver and the players liked the sojourn to scenic central Oregon, the laid-back vibe didn't make it feel like a major. With senior golf already having gained traction in Alabama, there ought to be a more lively atmosphere for the Tradition next year.
"Shoal Creek is honored to be hosting another major golf championship," said Mike Thompson. "Our members are eager to showcase our outstanding club to golf fans around the world. We will work hard to provide the players, spectators, sponsors and volunteers a first-class experience. The Regions Tradition will certainly be well received by the Birmingham community."
--* Bill Fields