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First Tee Open Will Bring Champions Tour Major-Like Field to Poppy Hills

First Tee Open Will Bring Champions Tour Major-Like Field to Poppy Hills

March 21, 2014

O'Meara

It’s not a Champions Tour major, but it just as well could be.

Among the many reasons we’re already looking forward to this year’s Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach—along with Poppy Hills again hosting an event under the PGA Tour umbrella—is that the tournament is one of, if not the most popular events on the senior circuit.

Last year, the field for the First Tee Open was every bit as strong as a Champions Tour major. Overall, 28 of the top 30 from the 2012 Champions Tour money list and 45 of the top 50 from the 2013 money list (at the time) competed in the tournament, including all of the captains and assistants for the Presidents Cup.

The field was so strong that it featured every winner from the 2013 season up to that point except one. Then-Schwab Cup points leader Kenny Perry, who went on to win 2013 Champions Tour Player of the Year honors, didn’t play. But Perry was only missing in action because he had something bigger going on. The same weekend as the First Tee Open, Perry walked his daughter down the aisle for her wedding.

Looking ahead to this year’s First Tee Open, which will tee off Sept. 26-28 at Poppy Hills and Pebble Beach Golf Links, one can already count out Tom Watson. That’s because Watson will be busy the same weekend captaining the U.S. squad in that little thing called the Ryder Cup.

But other than Watson (and maybe a co-captain), there’s no reason to not expect another stellar field for this year’s tournament.

That’s because the First Tee Open has become one of the players’ favorite Champions Tour stops, due in part to the tournament’s format. The event features 81 Champions Tour players competing side-by-side with 81 juniors representing The First Tee. If you’re not familiar with The First Tee, it’s a program where kids nationwide (ages 5-18) can learn values and life skills that help prepare them for high school, college and life.

“I think the real reason that we’re seeing so many big names commit is because of The First Tee and what it has done in impacting the lives of youth,” said Steve John, CEO of the Monterey Peninsula Foundation, the group that puts on the tournament, during last year’s event. “The players are more involved with The First Tee, and there’s just more awareness of The First Tee.”

The First Tee Open’s popularity also has to do with where it fits in the schedule.

Prior to last year’s tournament, the tournament, which is now in its 11th year, was held Fourth of July week. The new September dates, which are contractually set through at least 2016 (coincidentally the same time frame as Poppy Hills’ contract), means a chance for the players to compete in what could be ‘Indian Summer’ conditions.

Like last year, this year’s First Tee Open will also follow the Pacific Links Hawaii Championship. That means a trip to the islands followed by a trip to the best zip code in golf.

And now a reinvigorated Poppy Hills is in the mix, meaning the tournament will be played specifically within the confines of the Del Monte Forest.

“All of the players, and especially me, are excited about returning to Poppy Hills where many of us competed on the PGA Tour” said Champions Tour member Mark ‘The Prince of Pebble Beach’ O’Meara, a record five-time winner of the AT&T Pro-Am. “Champions Tour professionals love to play top quality courses and with the addition of Poppy Hills to the Nature Valley First Tee Open that’s exactly what we’ve got. I look forward to seeing the positive renovations they have made to the course and I’m sure all the players will enjoy the changes.”

For the players and fans, the First Tee Open just keeps getting better.

-Jerry Stewart

Author: Jerry Stewart

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