PGA Tour Champions is picking up where the LPGA left off with fresh event in the California desert

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RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — World Golf Hall of Famer Patty Sheehan was hanging around the clubhouse at her home course, Mission Hills Country Club, a couple of weeks ago when a group of reporters stopped by to say hello. There was a gathering at the course that day to promote the new PGA Tour Champions’ Galleri Classic in late March.

“Yeah, I’ve signed up as a volunteer,” Sheehan said. “Still waiting to hear what I’m going to do. I’ll go anywhere they want me.”

The 66-year-old noted that her top three choices were walking scorer, handing balls out on the range or player hospitality. So imagine this: the six-time LPGA Tour major winner and 1996 champion at Mission Hills trailing the great male players of her era, punching their scores into a little computer.

That scene alone says a lot about the transition that’s taking place in the Coachella Valley this week. After 51 years of celebrating the best players in the women’s game, the California desert communities in the Palm Springs area said goodbye last April to the LPGA major that was long associated with Mission Hills in Rancho Mirage and the course named after the tournament’s founder, Dinah Shore.

Now called the Chevron Championship (formerly the ANA Inspiration and referred to by traditionalists as “The Dinah”), the tournament has moved to Texas where it will be held next month. That change was announced late in 2021 and the ball immediately got rolling on a possible Champions Tour event in the valley. Then last April, with the towels barely dry from winner Jennifer Kupcho making the last champion’s leap into Poppie’s Pond, it was announced that the men’s senior players were indeed coming with a new tournament, the Galleri Classic, with a first-time sponsor—and that it would be played on the Mission Hills Dinah Course where her statue stands near the 18th hole.

“The timing was perfect. It’s probably one of the fastest title sponsor opportunities that the Champions Tour has put together,” said Michelle DeLancy, the Galleri tournament director who served in the same role for the senior tour’s Boeing Classic outside Seattle.

According to DeLancy, the biotech company Grail jumped into its first sports sponsorship believing it had an excellent opportunity through golf and the desert population to reach its most sought-after demographic—those who are 60 and older. Headquartered in Menlo Park, Calif., Grail developed the test known as Galleri that can detect more than 50 cancers through a blood screening. Since Grail signed on, the tournament has identified six cancer-related charity partners to receive proceeds from the Classic. Grail will have a lab at the tournament site for testing.

“This is just bringing it to where the people are,” Grail CEO Bob Ragusa said. “We realize that a lot of people have difficulty getting to appointments and a lab, so bringing it to where people are is important.”

The community, DeLancy said, has shown enthusiasm for a tournament that will bring back many of the now-50-and-older PGA Tour stars who competed for so many decades in the numerous iterations of the Bob Hope Desert Classic. The field of 78 that begins the 54-hole event on Friday includes most of the senior biggies: Ernie Els, Steve Stricker, John Daly, Padraig Harrington, Vijay Singh, David Duval, Colin Montgomerie, Mark O’Meara and, of course, Bernhard Langer, whose next victory will make him the all-time winningest player in PGA Tour Champions history. Even the fan in Sheehan got a glint in her eye knowing that Fred Couples would be there.

At the press conference earlier in the day, Fred Funk said of Couples, “He’s our rock star.”

John Cook, an 11-time PGA Tour winner who grew up at Mission Hills, is also entered, and he told the Desert Sun newspaper that this will be his last senior event because he’s focused on his TV commentating career.

“I chose the Hoag [Classic] at Newport Beach [last week], and I chose Mission Hills,” Cook, 65, said. “These will probably be the last two I play, quite honestly. I don’t see myself older than 65 years old trying to come out and compete. What better places to call it a career than Newport and Mission Hills.”

Of course, there has already been some fun bar room speculation about if the Galleri winner might take a leap into Poppie’s Pond. In a recent interview with Forbes, Duval joked, “They might just waddle in slowly. It’ll be fascinating to see.”

Not wanting to compete against the PGA Tour and LPGA events over the years, PGA Tour Champions hasn’t held an event in the Coachella Valley since 1997, when the last versions of the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf was played at PGA West. Other events there included the Vintage Invitational, played in the 1980s and 1990s.

Now the seniors are back, with guys who are bit more gray and wrinkled, but that’s all good, because so is their gallery.

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