PGA Tour back at Silverado

For at least a year or two, the PGA Tour is returning to Northern California’s Wine Country.

The 2014-15 season kicks off this week in the Open, which is moving about 100 miles north from CordeValle Golf Club in San Martin, Calif., to Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa.

“We are thrilled to host the season-opening PGA Tour tournament on our iconic property,” said Johnny Miller, part owner of Silverado and NBC’s lead golf analyst, who claimed two of his 25 PGA Tour victories at Silverado on his way to the World Golf Hall of Fame.

“Our North Course is among the most challenging and beautiful courses in the state, and over the last two years the Troon team and I have ensured the playing experience is superior in every way.”

Eventually, the tournament will be contested at The Institute, a private course east of Morgan Hill, Calif., built by John Fry of Fry’s Electronics. However, construction was delayed because of a Pacific Gas & Electric pipeline that runs through the property.

Looking for an alternative, tournament officials chose the North Course at Silverado, which hosted the PGA and Champions tours for years, then was renovated by Miller in 2011.

“Johnny Miller is the key reason why all of this is happening,” said Tim Geesey, directions of golf operations at Silverado. “To the ownership’s credit, they wanted to make sure that it was the right event at the right time. We really feel that with the strength of the Fry’s organization and their commitment to a top quality golf event, and the quality of the tournament organization led by Duke Butler, we couldn’t find a better partner.

“They needed a tournament site, and that’s when we started talking to them. I’m thrilled that we could bring professional golf back to Silverado and really back in the Napa Valley. Our goal is to make it a true showcase for Napa Valley.”

Jimmy Walker will defend the title he won last year at CordeValle, a week that kick-started a season that saw him claim the first three victories of his PGA Tour career, lead the FedEx Cup standings for most of the way and make the United States team for the Ryder Cup.

Also committed to play are Matt Kuchar, Lee Janzen, Patrick Reed, Justin Leonard and Hunter Mahan, all of whom have played for the U.S. Ryder Cup team; along with major champions Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen, Mike Weir and Lucas Glover.

Rory McIlroy, No. 1 in the World Golf Rankings, was committed to play but withdrew because of a scheduling conflict. He won the Open Championship and the PGA Championship to qualify for the PGA Grand Slam of Golf in Bermuda, which starts the day after the Open finishes.

McIlroy and Tiger Woods were among eight top players who were given exemptions to play in a lucrative exhibition in Turkey the same week as the Frys in 2012, provided they play in the Frys by 2015.

Mahan and Westwood are honoring that commitment this week, with McIlory and Woods, recovering from a back injury, expected to play in 2015.

“It’s the kind of course a great player like Rory or Tiger, when they play it someday soon, they’re going to really love it,” said Miller, who was born in San Francisco and lives in Napa.

“It’s a very fair course, like Torrey Pines or Doral. The best players usually win here, because there’s really no trickery.”

Silverado hosted two PGA Tour events, the Kaiser International Open from 1968 to 1976 and the Anheuser-Busch Golf Classic from 1977 to 1980. The Champions Tour played at Silverado from 1989-2002, with the tournament known as the Transamerica Senior Golf Championship and later the Napa Valley Championship.

Among the past winners at Silverado were Miller in 1974 and 1975, Jack Nicklaus, Billy Casper, Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw, Lee Trevino, Miller Barber, Tom Kite, Dave Stockton, Charles Coody, Bob Charles, David Duval, Lanny Wadkins and David Toms.

When the Napa area was hit by an earthquake that registered 6.0 on the Richter scale in August, Walker was the first player to call tournament officials to ask if everything was OK. He confirmed that he would defend his title.

Miller said Silverado suffered very little damage from the earthquake.

Walker can’t wait to get there, planning to arrive early with friends to check out some of the wine-tasting at local vineyards.

“It is like Disneyland for adults, I think,” said Walker, who has never been to the Napa Valley. “It’s something I’ve gotten into, I really enjoy wine, and I definitely look forward to being there.

“We have some friends who own a vineyard in Sonoma, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the week brings.”

On Sunday evening, he hopes to toast a successful title defense.

–Story courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre

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