The International left void in Colo. when it exited 10 years ago this month
by Gary Baines
The anniversaries may draw little fanfare, but they shouldn’t pass unrecognized.
Thirty years ago this week, The International PGA Tour event debuted at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Castle Pines Golf Club. And 10 years ago, on Aug. 13, 2006, the final round of the final International was conducted, ending the longest-running and most successful tour event in Colorado golf history.
The tournament didn’t formally go by the wayside until early February 2007, when PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and International founder Jack Vickers announced the event’s demise at a Denver-based news conference after a 21-year run. The end came due in large part to the lack of a title sponsor, with Tiger Woods’ often bypassing the event being another significant issue. But after some of golf’s all-time greats claimed the title over the years — including Greg Norman, Davis Love III (twice), Phil Mickelson (twice), Vijay Singh and Ernie Els — Dean Wilson will go down as The International’s last champion after hoisting the trophy 10 years and three days ago. When Wilson defeated Tom Lehman in a playoff, it proved to be the only PGA Tour victory of his career. (Wilson is pictured below at the trophy ceremony alongside Vickers.)
And just like that, after two decades of having a big-time PGA Tour event visit Colorado each summer, local sports fans were left with a void.
As Keith Schneider, the general manager at Castle Pines Golf Club, noted when the news was announced in 2007, “I think the community will miss this event. The Colorado PGA and the (CGA) will suffer with the way the tournament supported the local golf community. The Colorado Open winner would get a spot in The International field. Now that’s gone. It’s too bad.”
As Schneider pointed out, the impact The International made went beyond its considerable entertainment value. After all, as of 2007 The International’s non-profit arm, along with Castle Pines Golf Club, had donated about $14 million over the years to charities in Colorado and elsewhere.
“It’s a sad day in Colorado sports,” said 1996 U.S. Open champion Steve Jones, now a Colorado Sports Hall of Famer. “I’m sorry to see it go. It’s a favorite of all the players.”
Certainly, life goes on, and there have been many great golf tournaments held in Colorado over the last decade. The list includes a BMW Championship, a U.S. Women’s Open, a Solheim Cup, a U.S. Senior Open, a Senior PGA Championship and a U.S. Amateur, among others. But The International — with its stellar hospitality, great fields and a unique format in which a birdie and a bogey were worth more than two pars — left an indelible mark on the local sports scene.
Perhaps the PGA Tour will return to Colorado in the not-too-distant future. Certainly another BMW Championship could be a possibility at a site like Castle Pines or Cherry Hills. But with this being the 30th anniversary of the first International and the 10th of the last, it’s worth remembering some of the highlights from Castle Pines. As one of very few media types to have reported from all 21 Internationals — and all seven days of tournament week every year but one — I had the pleasure of covering everyone from Arnold Palmer to Nicklaus to Woods to Tom Watson to Lee Trevino to Johnny Miller to Hale Irwin to Nick Faldo — along with all the aforementioned International champions — when they competed at Castle Pines.
Here are some of my favorite moments (in descending order), as I recalled in a column in the (Boulder) Daily Camera newspaper 11 years ago:
10. Weathering Weather Delays: You’d think that out of the 21 Internationals that once, just once, they’d have gotten through a tournament week without weather interrupting play. But nooooooo. Much to the dismay of the players — and plenty of other folks at Castle Pines — lightning strikes more often in the Castle Rock area than just about anywhere else in the country. And the 2004 tournament was especially a sight to behold, with a couple of inches of hail covering the course at one point, then rain and melting hail forming streams in the fairways at Castle Pines.
9. Big John: As big as Woods has been for golf, John Daly took a back seat to no one in popularity in his prime. And Daly’s first appearance at Castle Pines, in 1991, came directly on the heels of his victory in the PGA Championship. With his “grip it and rip it” mantra, people at Castle Pines couldn’t wait to see how far Big John hit it at a mile-high altitude. And he didn’t disappoint with 400-yard-plus drives.
8. Unlikely Champ Beats Major Winners: Clarence Rose in 1996 became the most improbable winner in the history of The International, edging out Wilson (2006). Rose made eagle twice Sunday on the par-5 17th hole, including once in a playoff against Brad Faxon, to post the only PGA Tour victory of his career. Rose beat a field that included the winners of all four major championships that year — Faldo, Jones, Lehman and Mark Brooks.
7. Doubling Up: Double eagles are a big-time rarity, even on the PGA Tour. But two were recorded on the same day during the 1990 International. Steve Pate holed a 2-iron on the par-5 eighth hole and Jim Gallagher Jr. matched the feat by draining a 5-iron approach on the par-5 17th.
6. Heavy Hitters: In 1986, the first year of The International, the tournament drew a field hard to beat for any event outside a major championship. Playing Castle Pines that year were Nicklaus, Palmer, Watson, Miller, Norman, Irwin, Ray Floyd, Ben Crenshaw, Nick Price, Payne Stewart and Bernhard Langer. Just that group accounts for more than 50 victories in major championships.
5. Cover Your Ears: This is one few other people witnessed, but it’s a personal favorite. One year I ventured down to the CBS compound to try to interview Gary McCord. And while I was waiting — and waiting and waiting — a scene played out that I’ll never forget. Someone drove off in the personal golf cart of CBS analyst Ken Venturi, and to say Venturi was livid about it would be the understatement of the century. When Venturi located the culprit, he spewed more four-letter words than I’ve heard strung together in my life, and my late dad once had a very rich vocabulary. Suffice it to say that the person who took the cart got the message loud and clear.
4. One for the Senses: A not-so-sterling performance by Tom Pernice Jr. in the final round in 2001 was punctuated by one of the most poignant moments in the tournament’s history. After winning, Pernice was embraced by his two daughters. One of the girls, Brooke, who has a disease that causes blindness, put her hand on her father’s face, trying to feel the emotion of the moment. The scene was caught by CBS cameras and became an indelible image for many onlookers.
3. Big Easy Wins … Finally: Els had long been one of the most popular players for folks at The International, which in 1991 marked just the second PGA Tour event ever in the U.S. for the South African. He had been a regular competitor ever since at Castle Pines. But in 2000, after four top-seven finishes at The International without a win, Els broke through for a victory. In a year in which Mickelson finished second and Norman fourth, Els tied the tournament record for points with 48.
2. Tiger Soars With Eagles: Woods played only twice at The International, but the first time was quite memorable. In 1998, he made a hole-in-one at No. 7 at Castle Pines, resulting in one of the biggest crowd roars in tournament history. For the week, Woods made four eagles (two each in rounds 1 and 3), which tied for the tournament record. Tiger finished fourth, behind Singh, Willie Wood and Mickelson.
1. Beem Me Up: Sunday’s back nine of the 2002 tournament will go down as one of the most exciting stretches in PGA Tour history. Facing a 10-point deficit with five holes remaining, Steve Lowery threw the scare of a lifetime into Rich Beem, who seemingly had the tournament wrapped up. Starting on the 14th hole, Lowery posted the best four-hole stretch in tournament history, going birdie-eagle-bogey-double eagle. Lowery holed out twice from the fairway during the run, which was worth 14 points. Only an eagle by Beem on No. 17 and a missed birdie putt by Lowery at No. 18 kept Beem from having a full-scale nervous breakdown. Beem ended up winning the tournament by one point.