Local sports fans have an opportunity for a rare experience in July when the PGA Tour Champions arrives at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Md., for the Constellation Senior Players Championship.
They'll get to see top-flight golfers in a fan-friendly atmosphere and even get some exercise strolling the 7,000-plus-yard course, which is certainly a departure from the sedentary nature of most sports-spectating.
The PGA Tour Champions used to be called the Seniors PGA Tour because it's open to pros 50 and older, but for the players, the competitive fires still burn, and they still attack par with a vengeance. Yet, a core principal of the tour from its beginnings nearly four decades ago has been to make the pros accessible to the fans.
Billy Andrade, one of the pros who will play in the 72-hole Players Championship July 13-16, recalled going to a pro-am event in his home state of Rhode Island when he was 16 that featured senior players of that era.
"I watched Don January and Bob Goalby and Arnold Palmer and Sam Snead play, and it was such a casual, wonderful experience for me," said Andrade, who has four wins on the PGA Tour and three more with Champions. "The way they were talking with the fans and interacting -- I always remember that."
Now 53, Andrade is a "senior player" himself and chuckled about how even players with reputations for being a little "touchy" now and then, such as Scotsman Colin Montgomerie, loosen up on the Champions tour.
"He's embraced our tour," Andrade said. "He's promoted it. He's won a couple of majors. … He's been wonderful to be around."
The $2.8 million Constellation Senior Players Championship, which has rotated to different courses, is one of five majors on the 50-and-older tour, and Bernhard Langer, dubbed the "Red Baron" earlier in his career, is the event's three-time defending champion.
In fact, Langer, who will defend his title at Caves Valley, has been running roughshod over the competition for a while. He has already won three tournaments this year, including two majors: The Tradition and the Senior PGA Championship. The popular German has been doing all this despite approaching a certain milepost; the two-time winner of the Masters turns 60 in August.
"He has set the bar so high," Andrade said of Langer. "The problem is that he's such a nice guy. It would be so great if he wasn't because then it would be easier to want to beat him more, but he's so classy. … You have to tip your hat in sports and say, ‘Great job, well done, [but] just let's end it soon so the rest of us can have a chance.'"
Along with Langer, other big-name players who have committed to be at Caves Valley include: colorful John Daly, who won a Champions event in Texas in May; Vijay Singh, who has won a Masters and two PGA Championships; and Welshman Ian Woosnam, also a Masters winner.
The Baltimore area landed the prestigious golf event because the title sponsor, energy company Constellation, is headquartered at Harbor East in Baltimore City.
As part of its local commitment, Constellation has pledged $500,000 to eight local charities. It has been Constellation's practice to make contributions in the event's host cities. The Senior Players Championship was held at the Baltimore Country Club in Timonium, Md., from 2007-2009.
Joe Rotellini, the tournament executive director, said if the weather cooperates, it's a reasonable ambition to have 50,000 attend the event.
A single-day ticket is $20 and a full tournament pass is $70, bargain prices by today's pro sports standards.
"We're going to get the bulk of the best players," Rotellini said. "We have some neat things we can promote, including free parking. With a lot of golf tournaments, you have to park off-site and take a shuttle to the course. Here, you can park across the street and walk to the course."
Andrade said a Champions event is an intimate experience fans are rarely afforded.
"For the bang for the buck, to come to a golf course this beautiful and be able get up-close and personal with all of us … if you're a true golf fan, you're going to know us," Andrade said.
"It's not like a PGA Tour event," he added. "There's more access and it's more fun."
Issue 234: June 2017