I will never forgive the PGA Tour for destroying the Western Open. For that, and for many other reasons, I increasingly am hoping that the FedEx Cup is a bust that costs Finchem his job.
First played in 1899 (the same year my home course opened), the Western Open was created by the Western Golf Association, which at one time seriously contended with the USGA as the arbiter of golf in the United States. Before being reworked by the PGA Tour, the Western Open was was golf’s third oldest tournament (behind the Open Championship and the US Open). For years—prior to the rise of the Masters—it was rightly considered a “major” championship, for it attracted the best talent in the game. Originally played at different midwest locations, it also has been held in Arizona, Utah, California and Tennessee. Since 1962, however, the Western Open has been held in the Chicago Area.
Over the years, tournament winners have included some of the biggest names in golf: Willie Anderson, Chick Evans (amateur), Walter Hagen, Jim Barnes, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Billy Casper. It continued to be a significant tournament until 2006.
One of the things that made the Western special was its support of the Evans Scholarship Foundation. Founded by the outstanding amateur Chick Evans (who would be much better remembered if not for Bobby Jones), the Evans Scholarships supports the college careers of former caddies. It’s the nation’s largest privately funded college scholarship program, and has provided college educations to more than 8,400 caddies while making tuition scholarship payments totaling more than $100 million. There currently are 823 caddies on Evans Scholarships, living in one of 14 “Scholarship Houses.” There’s a Scholarship House here in Ann Arbor, just off Washtenaw Avenue.
I’m certain that the Western Golf Association is still getting its portion of tournament proceeds for the Scholarship Fund, but its clear that the focus will be changed. The tournament no longer is about the Western Golf Association and its works. It’s about the ego driven FedEx Cup.
In killing this tournament (and others like the BC Open), the PGA Tour has shown that it has absolutely no respect for history—only short term gains. In search of the almighty dollar they renamed the event the BMW. Desperate for a relevant event, the Tour destroyed the “Open” concept and made it a limited field, professional only event. Needing to fit it into their ill-conceived FedEx Cup Championship, they moved the event from July—where it actually was watched—to the first weekend of regular season NFL play. The Western Golf Association surely had no choice in the matter. It was either play along with the Tour, or get screwed like the Canadian Open.
The Western Open is no more and golf is less rich for its loss.