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Champions Tour Dropping Legends of Golf & Leaving Savannah
The Legends of Golf won't return next year to Savannah, Ga., following an 11-year run. The 36-year-old tournament, the genesis for the current over-50 Champions Tour, is folding after its sponsor, Liberty Mutual Insurance, pulled out in July.
The 54-hole tournament is still on the Champions Tour's schedule next year for April 26-28, but it won't take place as expected at the Club at Savannah Harbor. The two-man team event was won in 2013 by Brad Faxon and Jeff Sluman.
In a statement released Monday, Champions Tour president Mike Stevens said that efforts to obtain a new title sponsor to replace Liberty Mutual Insurance had "not been fruitful."
Stevens added, "The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa, along with the Savannah community, have been a wonderful host of this event for the past 11 years. We are extremely grateful for the tournament's many dedicated volunteers and sponsors who have helped us raise over $1.9 million for local charities over the years."
Stevens held out hope for a future event in Georgia's oldest city. "Although we will not be returning to Savannah in 2014, our hope is that the Champions Tour will return to Savannah in the near future."
Mark Spadoni, the general manager of the Westin Savannah, was not caught unawares of the decision. "It's official now," Spadoni told Nathan Dominitz of the Savannah Morning News. "We were not blindsided by this. The reality was there needed to be some sort of finality."
Spadoni noted the resort had a "great 11-year relationship" with tournament operator Championship Management and Liberty Mutual. "We've got a good deal, but it won't last forever. We were at the mercy of the title sponsor and, to a certain extent, the tour. We were tied by their ultimate decision where they want to have an event."
For Savannah native and Champions Tour regular, Gene Sauers, the news was saddening. Last year he and partner Kenny Perry finished tied for second with Fred Funk and Mike Goodes, a stroke behind behind Faxon and Sluman. "It's really disappointing not having (a tournament) in my backyard," Sauers told Dominitz (for the full story, visit http://savannahnow.com/sports/2013-11-11/champions-tour-golf-tourney-leaves-savannah#.UoKmCHfTniI).
"A lot of players are kind of upset about it," added Sauers, who hosted players in his home. "Even Tom Watson said, 'If they don't have it in Savannah, I'm not going to play it.' "
In addition to the regular Champions Tour players competing over three rounds, the Legends of Golf had a 36-hole event called the "Raphael Division" - named after event co-founder Fred Raphael, which in 2013 involved former active players such Ian Baker-Finch, Tom Wargo, Graham Marsh and Tony Jacklin.
It also had the "Demaret Division" for players 70 and older. This year true legends Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player were partners.
The tournament originated in 1978 as a 54-hole, two-man team event for players 50 and older. Its success helped spawn the Senior PGA Tour (now Champions Tour) in 1980.
The Legends of Golf was first held at Onion Creek Country Club in Austin, Texas, from 1978-89, followed by Barton Creek in Austin from 1990-94. It moved to PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., for three years; and in 1998 was held at Summer Beach Golf Resort on Amelia Island, Fla.
After a four-year run at World Golf Village in St. Augustine, Fla., from 1999-2002, the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf moved to the Club at Savannah Harbor in 2003, where it's been played ever since.