Champions Tour bids farewell to Fox Chapel

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The decision to bring the Senior Players Championship to the Fox Chapel Golf Club was practically by accident. It was also last-minute, a case of a tournament seeking a home and a club having no idea it would be asked to host a senior major championship.

They came together in December 2011, and in less than six months orchestrated a tournament that would become a smash hit on the Champions Tour.

"We thought we would be here one year," said Brian Goin, the PGA Tour's vice president of championship management.

Three years later, the 31st Constellation Senior Players Championship is right at home at Fox Chapel, a Seth Raynor-designed gem that has been embraced and hailed by just about every player on the tour.

Goin, a Penn Hills native, was largely responsible for convincing PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem to relocate the 72-hole tournament to Fox Chapel when it became apparent it would not return to Westchester Country Club, site of the 2011 tournament won by Fred Couples.

"Three years ago, when we were at Westchester, we had no idea we would be in Pittsburgh, and a lot of people had no idea about Fox Chapel," Goin said. "But to be able to show this place to the world, this is not the hidden gem any more."

That was the expression eight-time major champion Tom Watson, a course designer himself, used after he played Fox Chapel for the first time. Watson will return again, along with five other World Golf Hall of Famers and defending champion Kenny Perry, to play in the Senior Players Championship June 26-29 at Fox Chapel.

But it might be for the last time.

Just as the tournament has begun to settle in as part of the Western Pennsylvania landscape, the Senior TPC will not return to Fox Chapel in 2015 or 2016 because it does not want to compete for corporate sponsors and ticket sales with the 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont. Goin and the tournament's executive director, Joe Rotellini, have left open the possibility the tournament could return to Western Pennsylvania as early as 2017.

For now, nearly everyone is sorry to see the tournament leave.

"It's been a fantastic experience having them here," said tournament co-chairman Tom Reading, a Fox Chapel member. "It's great for the area."

"For me, this has always been special because I was able to convince the commissioner Pittsburgh was the right spot," Goin said. "We had a slim-to-none chance to have Fox Chapel for one year, but I convinced them they would enjoy it. I told them, just give us one year. I gave them a pitch, and they received it well.

"One of the things they said they like is that it's not a three-year commitment. They said we've got six months, we can't fool around, let's all pool together and pull this off."

The Senior Players is one of five major championships on the Champions Tour and attracts many of the top players. That includes Bernhard Langer of Germany, only the 10th player in Champions Tour history to have 20 career victories; England's Colin Montgomerie, who won his first major of any kind and his first tournament on American soil when he captured the Senior PGA in Benton Harbor, Mich.; and Nick Price (International) and Jay Haas (U.S.), each of whom were named captains of their 2015 Presidents Cup teams.

"It is the players' championship," Rotellini said. "This event is for the players. This is their championship."

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NOTES -- Daily practice-round tickets are $10 advance purchase, $20 at the gate; tournament-round tickets are $25 advance, $35 gate. Weekly grounds pass is $75. Call 412-729-5050 or visit cspgolf.com to order. ... Volunteers, especially marshalls, are still needed. Go to cspgolf.com.

Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.


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