Ally Challenge Wrap Up
This past weekend’s Ally Challenge marked the return of professional golf to Warwick Hills, the previous site of the long-running Buick Open. The PGA TOUR Champions event is the first regular men’s event in Michigan since the 2009 demise of the Buick Open.
I specify “regular men’s” because in the intervening years, Michigan has hosted four Senior PGA Championships (considered a Major), a Senior US Open, the US Amateur, and for several years, two LPGA events (The Meijer Classic and the Volvick Championship). Next year, the PGA TOUR comes to Detroit, and the LPGA adds a tournament in Midland, sponsored by DOW. There also are currently two LPGA developmental league events (The Symetra Tour).
The inaugural Ally Challenge was won by Paul Broadhurst, who shot a 15-under 201 to win by two. Brandt Jobe was runner up, while Tom Lehman and Mark O’Meara finished in a tie for third.
Broadhurst started the day one back. A birdie on the first got him into a tie in the lead. Birdies on five, six and seven gave him a two shot lead. A bogey on the eleventh brought him back to Mark O’Meara, who was playing excellent golf and was in hot pursuit. Birdies on twelve and thirteen gave him a two shot lead again.
On his way to the final round 6-under 66, Broadhurst rolled in seven birdies. His best work, however, was perhaps his par at the fourteenth. Broadhurst’s drive was offline, and trees stymied his approach to the green.
“I got fortunate on 14,” Broadhurst said. “I really didn’t know how to play the second shot, no idea. And just at the last moment and looked and I thought, well, maybe I could squeeze it through that gap in the trees. And it was a bit of a Seve shot, but it was a shot that I’ve got to play. I haven’t got any option really than to chip it in the trap.And then it would have been a tricky bunker shot. So that was a big four to make there.”
The dagger in the heart of Broadhurst’s pursuers came on the final hole. a very long drive was followed by a sharp iron to the green. The birdie putt went in, giving him a two shot lead.
Broadhurst is two-for-Michigan in 2018, having also won the Senior PGA Championship at Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor. We should grant him honorary citizenship, or a key to the state or something.
The quality of the play was terrific. While the field was composed of “seniors” (50+), the players were not not laying up. The desire to win does not go away.
No one should be surprised. Fifteen major champions teed it up at Warwick Hills, along with 10 former Buick Open winners. World Golf Hall of Fame members Bernhard Langer, Fred Couples, Sandly Lyle, Colin Montgomerie, Vijay Singh, and Mark O’Meara were present. In addition, there is a long list of names that fans of a certain age will remember: Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia, Darren Clarke, Chris DiMarco, Paul Goydos, Jay Haas, Lee Janzen, Jerry Kelly, Tom Lehman, Rocco Mediate, Jesper Parnevik, Corey Pavin, David Toms, Kirk Triplett, and Scott Verplank among others.
Fred Couples clearly was the fan favorite, drawing a crowd on each hole.
Local favorites included Tom Gills of Lake Orion and Tom Werkmeister of Grandville. Gillis finished 73rd and took home $1,400. Werkmeister, a Michigan Golf Hall-of-Famer, finished T46 and took home $7, 200.
All of the players I came into contact with were exceedingly gracious. I saw many signing endless autographs — many of which were requested by kids, a sight which surprised me, since most were too young to remember the prime playing years of the players. The players also stood for endless interviews from local media. Here’s a good one with Bernhard Langer.
I do not know what tournament organizers expected in terms of attendance, but Tournament director Chris Coffman seemed pleased to announce that some 60,000 tickets were sold for the week. Billy Mayfair, the 1998 Buick Open Champion noted that he thought it was a huge crowd.
Ally is a bank holding company with its headquarters in Detroit. It began life as the General Motors Acceptance Corporation (GMAC), which was founded in 1919 to help customers finance their automobiles. The company was re-branded in 2010 as Ally Financial. It went public in 2014.
Thus, in a very real sense, the Ally Challenge is the successor to the Buick Open: Same city (Grand Blanc), same course (Warwick Hills), same sponsor family tree (Buick is a GM product; Ally is a GM offspring).
Ally put on a really good production at Warwick Hills. There were plenty of public grandstands, lots of informative signage, plenty of food and beverage stands, very helpful and friendly volunteers, and other necessary facilities. In addition, the Ally Challenge offered an on-site “Fan Zone,” where spectators could enjoy a Biergarten, food trucks, a golf simulator, miniature golf, an inflatable bounce house for kids and other activities. Presenting sponsor McLaren health had an educational pavilion, and a health scavenger hunt activity. Tournament week also featured a community concert by Big and Rich and a 5K run. Concert goers and 5K run participants got a complementary ticket for their troubles.
I think that such activities are key for second-tier tournaments. People will go to a regular PGA TOUR event to see the world’s best players. LPGA and PGA TOUR Champions events (not to mention the Web.Com and Symetra Tours) need to sell an entertainment package that includes the world’s best players. (Just to be clear, the LPGA and Senior Tour players still are the world’s best and could thrash any of us amateurs.) The Ally Challenge did a pretty good job selling entertainment: food, beer, music, and so forth. I think there’s room for more.
The club also was very accommodating. Warwick Hills members seemed to have gone out of their way to make the Ally Challenge a success. Course conditions were immaculate — the best I have seen all summer. Put Warwick Hills on my list of Michigan courses I need to play.
Warwick Hills’ routing seems ideal for spectators. There is a hub of holes that includes parts of 1, 8, 9, 11, 16, 17 and 18 where a spectator could take in a great deal of the action without walking very far. That hub also included the large grandstands on the 17th, the Biergarten and the Fan Zone, where spectators could get a variety of food and drinks. More food and drink booths were behind the grandstands on the 17th.
On the final day, I noticed a series of interesting little ceremonies taking place on the first tee. With each group of players, a pair of “honorary observers” were announced. Photos were taken with their assigned players and the observers then presumably followed the group around inside the ropes. I mean to ask about that, but got distracted by other things and didn’t remember until I was processing photos. I presume that they were big donors, VIPs with the sponsors, club members or some combination thereof.
The PGA TOUR Champions and Ally currently have a three-year agreement. There was some discussion at the tournament that it might be scheduled next year in August.
I look forward to it.
2018 Ally Challenge Final Results and a photo gallery follow.
|T24||Gibby Gilbert III||-7||70||68||71||209||$19,120|
|T37||Tommy Armour III||-4||70||70||72||212||$10,600|
|T42||Wes Short Jr.||-3||70||71||72||213||$8,800|
|T56||Jay Don Blake||E||72||71||73||216||$4,100|
|72||Tom Pernice Jr||5||76||72||73||221||$1,520|