Christmast Comes Early

Throughout the years, Kansas City has hosted many professional golf events. 

The PGA Tour played at Swope Memorial and Oakwood Country Club in the 1950s. The LPGA played events at Leawood South and Brookridge Country Club in the 1970s. The LPGA Futures Tour currently makes Leawood South Country Club an annual stop on its schedule, and the Senior PGA Tour (which became the Champions Tour) had a fantastic 15-year run at various courses around town including the Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate. 

Following the great golf tradition, the PGA Tour and Christmas In October have announced that a new Nationwide Tour event will be played in the greater Kansas City area beginning in 2009. 

The Christmas In October Classic will be played August 17 through 23 at the Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate in Overland Park, Kan., with a purse of $625,000 and first prize winnings of $112,500. The Nationwide Tour and Christmas In October have entered into a three-year agreement.

Christmas In October–a Kansas City-based organization that rebuilds houses, lives and neighborhoods in Kansas City with the help of thousands of volunteers from various area organizations–will be the beneficiary of the tournament. The organization was founded in 1984 by Dick Miller and John McMeel when they began work on 20 area houses. Currently, the organization is working on 400 houses and is one of the largest volunteer programs of its kind in the United States and benefits the elderly, disabled and
homeowners with young children who lack the skill and resources to make necessary household repairs.

“We are asking the Kansas City-area business community to assist Christmas In October in restoring the homes of the elderly, handicapped and financially disadvantaged through our tournament sponsorship of this Nationwide Tour event,” says Christmas In October co-founder John McMeel. “As a 501(c)(3), Christmas In October provides a great opportunity for businesses to contribute to the community in a very direct and positive way. The money will be used to repair homes, schools, churches, public service buildings, daycare centers and neighborhood recreation centers.”

In order to achieve its goals, Christmas in October receives help from many groups and individuals. Perhaps the most passionate group involved in the tournament is the Kansas City Crusaders–a group of influential individuals that supports professional golf tournaments in the Kansas City area. 

“The Crusaders want to provide a positive economic impact on area businesses and offer transforming support to local charitable organizations through the promotion of professional golf in Kansas City,” says Gene Barlow, tournament director of the Christmas in October Classic. “The organization is made up of a diversified group that lives and works all over the Kansas City metropolitan area. We are very appreciative of their support.”

The Nationwide Tour is the “minor league” of the PGA Tour. However, it is known for the quality of play. Players competing on the Nationwide Tour are fighting to make their way to the PGA Tour, and in fact, many have been on the PGA Tour and are looking to regain their playing status. The field will consist of 156 players. Several of those players will gain entry into the event through a Monday qualifier, which will be held at Fred Arbanas Golf Course at Longview Lake.

“The PGA TOUR couldn’t be more pleased to partner with Christmas In October to bring the Nationwide Tour to Kansas City,” says Nationwide Tour president Bill Calfee. “When we come to a new market like Kansas City, most fans are surprised to learn that two out of every three PGA TOUR players are Nationwide Tour alumni and that they have amassed more than 230 TOUR wins and 11 major championships. By August, the week-to-week pressure cooker to earn one of the 25 coveted PGA TOUR cards for 2010 will be reaching a critical phase. Golf fans of Kansas City will get to see the next round of PGA TOUR stars up close and personal in a much heightened competitive environment.”

The Christmas in October Classic is a 72-hole stroke-play event with competitive rounds held Aug. 20 through 23. As with most professional tournaments, there will be pro-am events as well. Monday and Wednesday provide golfers with an opportunity to tee it up with the professionals. The cost to play in the pro-am is $2,000 per player.

In addition, fans will be treated to a festive atmosphere throughout the week.

“It will be like a big party–and a golf tournament will break out,” says Barlow. “We are going to have lots of activities like clinics and live bands. We’re also having a ‘Birdies for Beer’ promotion at our party tent near the 17th hole. During tournament play on the 17th hole, we will run a special promotion. For any pro making a birdie on the hole, beers will be $1 for 30 minutes. We expect to have between 3,000 and 5,000 people surrounding the 17th hole during the tournament.”

A cold one might be just the ticket considering tournament week is traditionally one of the hottest weeks of the year in the Kansas City area. And speaking of tickets, you can purchase a single day ticket for $10. A weekly grounds pass is $45. All ticket proceeds go to Christmas in October.

“This event is set up just exactly like a regular PGA Tour event,” Barlow explains. “People will be amazed at the level of play. Particularly after the 36-hole cut. The weekend will be exciting.”

The Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate is a very fan-friendly venue for spectators as evidenced by the Champions Tour events held at the course in 1995 and 1996. It’s an easy course to navigate on foot, and many areas allow spectators to watch several golf holes from one vantage point. 

“This is wonderful news that the Nationwide Tour is coming to Kansas City,” says Kansas City native and World Golf Hall of Fame member Tom Watson. “Over the years I’ve seen how the Nationwide Tour has grown. It now has a very strong impact on the PGA TOUR with a number of its players going on to stardom on the PGA TOUR. The level of play I see out of Nationwide Tour players is certainly impressive. I have no doubt they will enjoy LionsGate and the many challenges Jack’s course presents. I encourage golf fans of Kansas City to head out there to see how really good this next generation of players is.”

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words: Brian Wright