St. Simons event to feature strong local field
By Mike Blum
In just two years, the McGladrey Classic has taken its place at the top of the PGA Tour’s Fall Series, a limited number of tournaments that wrap up the Tour’s schedule.
The tournament, played at Sea Island GC on St. Simons Island, will retain its Fall date at least through 2015, but its spot on the PGA Tour calendar will change beginning next year. The 2012 dates are Oct. 18-21.
Historically, the PGA Tour schedule has been tied to the calendar year, but that will change after the 2013 Tour Championship. The tournaments that make up the Fall Series at the end of the schedule will become the season openers beginning in October 2013, with the season ending at the conclusion of the Tour Championship at East Lake.
The Fall Series events will offer full FedExCup points for the first time, changing their status from tournaments that only impact players’ standing on the money list.
Scott Reid, the Tournament Director for the McGladrey Classic, says he is not certain how the change will impact the event, which already draws the strongest Fall Series field.
“We won’t see until next year,” Reid said. “We’ve already got a great field for the Fall, but we may see some players who haven’t played in the Fall change their schedules.”
McGladrey announced earlier this year that the accounting, tax and consulting firm has extended its title sponsorship through 2015.
“That’s a blessing to have that security,” Reid says. “That makes the tournament a lot more stable and enables us to get more awareness out about the tournament and grow the event.”
The first McGladrey Classic was played in 2010, and the event was an immediate hit with the players, who immediately took to both the course and the surroundings.
The McGladrey Classic is played on the Seaside course, one of three exceptional layouts that comprise Sea Island Golf Club. The Seaside course was extensively renovated in 1999, with Tom Fazio melding the Seaside nine, the second of the two original Colt & Allison nines from the late 1920s, with Joe Lee’s Marshside nine from 1973.
Plantation, Seaside’s adjoining sister course, consists of the first of the two Colt & Allison nines, along with Dick Wilson’s Retreat nine, which opened in 1960. Rees Jones merged the two in his renovation in 1998.
Seaside, a fixture in listings of the country’s top courses, has been a wonderful tournament host for both players and spectators. Its flat, mostly compact nature makes it easy to walk for fans looking to follow a group, and the coastal and marsh views make it one of the most visually appealing layouts visited by the PGA Tour.
Measuring just over 7,000 yards and playing to a non-altered par of 70, Seaside is among the shorter courses on the PGA Tour, and scores have reflected the relative absence of length.
Alpharetta resident Heath Slocum won the inaugural McGladrey Classic in 2010 with a 14-under 266 total, one shot ahead of Bill Haas. Last year’s tournament went to a playoff, with Ben Crane defeating Webb Simpson on the second extra hole after both finished 72 holes at 15-under.
Crane won the 2003 BellSouth Classic, closing with scores of 64 and 63 to erase a 6-stroke deficit after 54 holes. Last year at Sea Island GC, he again shot 63 in the final round to rally from five behind.
Known as one of the Tour’s streakiest putters, Crane put together two streaks of four straight birdies (8-11 and 14-17), holing a string of lengthy birdie efforts. He caught Simpson, who parred the last seven holes after being 4-under for the day after 11, and passed Thompson, who padded his third round lead with consecutive birdies at 4, 5 and 6, but was 2-over the rest of the way without another birdie.
Thompson finished one shot out of the playoff, with Louis Oosthuizen two back in 4th and Trevor Immelman 5th, three off the pace.
Crane won the playoff when Simpson, who was battling for the money title, missed a short par putt on the 17th hole.
The McGladrey Classic began with a built-in edge in terms of strength of field. With a sizeable number of PGA Tour players living on the island, and several others regular visitors to Sea Island GC, the tournament was guaranteed a strong field relative to other Fall Series events.
“They’re our best ambassadors for the tournament,” Reid says of the island’s PGA Tour contingent. “They know how good the area is and how good the course is. We’re very fortunate to have that group of players spreading the word.”
Through the first two years, none of the locals have made a serious run at victory, but most of the players who finished near the top of leader board were not that far removed from the Georgia coast.
Slocum is an Atlanta area resident with strong Southern roots. Haas has called neighboring South Carolina home for most of his life. Simpson is a native North Carolinian. Other contenders from the past two years include Louisiana’s David Toms, Joe Durant from the Florida Panhandle, Augusta’s Charles Howell and Thompson is an Alabama resident.
The St. Simons contingent begins with tournament host Davis Love III, whose foundation is largely responsible for the operations of the tournament and is the event’s primary beneficiary. Love will be trying to get back into a playing routine after spending most of his time in recent months preparing for his duties as U.S. Ryder Cup captain.
Zach Johnson, who represents McGladrey on the PGA Tour, has turned in the best effort by one of the locals, tying for 12th in 2010, just ahead of Chris Kirk, a member of the Nationwide Tour at the time. Lucas Glover had the best finish among the group last year, tying for 15th, but is sidelined with an injury and will miss this year’s tournament.
Matt Kuchar, one of the more recent St. Simons arrivals, has a pair of top-25 finishes in the tournament, with Jonathan Byrd and Brandt Snedeker turning in solid showings last year along with South Georgia resident Blake Adams, who played his college golf at Georgia Southern.
Two new additions to St. Simons’ roster of PGA Tour players have made names for themselves as rookies this season. Brian Harman and Harris English, both South Georgia natives, are now living on the island, and will be looking to make successful debut seasons even better on a course they are familiar with from their college days.
Also making their first starts in the McGladrey Classic are Vidalia native Will Claxton and recent Georgia Tech standout Roberto Castro of Alpharetta, both of whom have played well in their rookie seasons.
Other players of note who will be in the field include major champions Angel Cabrera, Stewart Cink, Ben Curtis, Jim Furyk and Justin Leonard. Trevor Immelman, Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen, Vijay Singh and David Toms all played in the tournament last year, as did 2012 winners Rickie Fowler, Carl Pettersson, Scott Piercy Kyle Stanley and Johnson Wagner.
Ted Potter, Scott Stallings and Mark Wilson, all winners this year, have committed to the tournament, as have Robert Allenby, Robert Garrigus, Fredrik Jacobson, Sean O’Hair, Jeff Overton, Rory Sabbatini, Henrik Stenson and Camilo Villegas.
The Georgia PGA will be represented in the field by seven-time Player of the Year Tim Weinhart, who will be competing for the third straight year. Weinhart played very respectably in each of his first two starts in the tournament, narrowly missing the cut both years.
As the next-to-last domestic tournament on the 2012 schedule (two PGA Tour-sanctioned events in Asia with limited fields also remain), the McGladrey Classic is especially important to players who are uncomfortably close to 125th on the money list, the number for retaining exempt status for 2013.
Slocum and fellow Georgia residents Jason Bohn and Vaughn Taylor are among that group, as is Brendon Todd, who will be part of a sizeable contingent of former Georgia Bulldogs in the field.
With as many as eight ex-Bulldogs playing and the strong UGA sentiment along the Georgia coast, tournament officials have a new on-course feature for alumni and fans of the school’s athletic teams.
A “Dawg House” open air pavilion will be positioned on the 17th hole, offering views of both that hole and the adjoining 16th. It will give Georgia fans a chance to get together, watch some golf and talk Bulldog football, with a chance of catching the ‘Dogs in action Saturday, depending on the start time of the Kentucky game.
The pavilion will be decked out in Georgia colors, and Bulldog supporters who stop by can expect a visit from an ex-Georgia golfer or two, as well as “maybe some other special guests,” Reid says.
The tournament will be preceded by a pro-am on Wednesday, the first day spectators will be allowed in the course, with a concert with country star Gary Allen schedule for 7:30 that evening.
All four rounds of the tournament will be broadcast live on the Golf Channel from 2-5 p.m.
For more information on the tournament, visit its web site at www.mcgladreyclassic.com.