Sunday At The Ally Challenge
I spent this past Sunday at The Ally Challenge — the Champions Tour stop in nearby Grand Blanc, Michigan. The Ally Challenge is a relatively new tournament (2018 was the inaugural event) but the venue is well known: Warwick Hills, the storied golf club that for decades hosted the Buick Open.
You can see a Warwick Hills course tour at the link
Ally, a Michigan-based financial corporation puts on a good show. Tournament week featured community events, a concert by Dierks Bentley, and on Saturday, a rare exhibition golf match featuring Jack Nicklaus.
Unfortunately, due to family matters, I had to miss Saturday’s excitement. Sunday was still a lot of fun. Threatening skies and a bit of rain reduced the size of the crowds from the previous year; those who attended got to see some fine golf.
The 2019 Ally Championship winner was Jerry Kelly, who won by two shots over Woody Austin. It was his second Champions Tour win of the season (the first was the American Family Insurance Championship in June). During his PGA TOUR career, Kelly made 616 starts and earned $29 million.
As you might expect, Kelly was emotional after his win:
Oh, it’s so awesome. Like I said last night, Kevin Conroy’s the CEO of Exact Sciences and Cologuard and he dubbed me a Flintoid for the week. I mean, I love that term and, you know, the people were fantastic out there. We’re so happy to be back at this tournament. Nos. 8 and 17 are just a ton of fun to play in front of. I wanted that birdie for those guys so they could have, you know, just a little bit more time with the two-dollar off beers.No, it’s a great place. Really happy to get the W here
Woody Austin finished second, two shots behind at -14. Michigan’s Tom Gillis was T7 at -10.
Complete results of the 2019 Ally Challenge are at the bottom of the page.
The main appeal for me of a Champions Tour event is seeing some of the great players of the recent past, including such Hall of Famers as Bernhard Langer, Tom Kite, Colin Montgomerie, Retief Goosen and Fred Couples.
The Ally Challenge is a special event because in addition to seeing the veteran players, fans also have a chance to see them play a course that many played during their stints on the PGA TOUR. It is a homecoming of sorts.
During the tournament, Ally announced that it had signed a five year extension, keeping the tournament at Warwick through 2025. Starting in 2020, it will move from a fall event to July. The 2020 edition will be played July 27 – August 2.
“When I look back two years ago, and I told our players we were going to be coming back to play here at Warwick, they were so excited, and now I get to tell them that we’ll be here at least until 2025, and it makes our life easy dealing with our players week-in and week-out,” PGA Tour Champions president Brady Miller said.
Not sure how I feel about that. It’s bound to be much warmer.
I spent much of the day hovering around two key locations. The ninth green and the tenth tee are just a few yards apart, and both can be seen from the shade of a large tree. From that vantage, I could watch a group display their short game skills on the elevated 9th green, and then watch the same group blast shots down the fairway on ten.
A highlight: Chris DiMarco missed his approach shot right of the green, then pitched it up the steep slope for a chip in.
Another good spot to watch the tournament was at the confluence of several holes: the 16th green, the par 3 seventeenth and the 18th tee. This area really is the epicenter of the tournament. Fans in the grandstands at seventeen were really having a good time. Even spots along the cart path offered really good views.
Adjacent to the 17th was the Fan Zone. This area featured a variety of tents with displays, activities and food trucks. An Ally-sponsored NASCAR vehicle was there and McLaren had a “get out of the bunker” contest featuring an artificial bunker with a severe wall. Kids could exercise in an inflatable play area. Fans could get their photo taken with the Ally Challenge trophy. Hackers feeling good about your swing could take a couple of swings at a target floating in the pond alongside seventeen and eighteen.
I stopped in at a couple of inflatable practice nets where PGA professionals were offering free lessons. The pro checked my grip, stance and alignment and made a couple of corrections. On Monday, I played at my local muni and saw an immediate improvement.
A final great spot from which to enjoy the tournament was the Faygo Porch Bar, from which you could see what was happening on both the ninth and tenth greens.
A nice touch from the tournament was that as the final group approached the eighteenth green, fans were allowed to follow up the fairway (behind moving ropes supervised by State Troopers — but it’s not as though there was going to be a sudden mobbing of the green by golf fans).
The final results of the Ally Challenge follow. A photo gallery is at the bottom of the page.
|T7||Wes Short Jr.||-10||69||67||70||206||$58,400|
|T33||Gibby Gilbert III||-3||74||70||69||213||$11,850|
|T50||Tommy Armour III||1||72||74||71||217||$6,000|
|T57||Tom Pernice Jr||4||75||74||71||220||$4,000|
|T60||Miguel Angel Jimenez||5||74||73||74||221||$3,300|