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Champions Tour Players Get one Last Crack at Oak Hills CC


There will be a true sense of melancholy - even more than usual on the Champions Tour - this week in San Antonio when the senior set vies for the 2010 AT&T Championship.

The AT&T is the final regular-season event and a last chance for some players to earn a place in the Charles Schwab Cup Championship. It's also the last time these players will get a crack at tournament play at venerable Oak Hills Country Club, a wonderful, classic golf course steeped in history and one of the oldest and most respected member-owned country clubs in the nation.

AT&T, the title sponsor, announced this week that the tournament will move next year to the Pete Dye-designed AT&T Canyons course at the TPC San Antonio. About that there is much lament going on in the Alamo City.

Built in 1922 and designed by the illustrious architect A.W. Tillinghast, Oak Hills CC is one of the most revered courses on the Champions Tour schedule. Tillinghast's trademark style is evident with its tree-lined fairways, bunker-protected greens and contoured putting surfaces.

"There are going to be some emotional times for the players out here this week," said Ben Crenshaw, former winner of the Texas Open when it was held at Oak Hills. "This is a great, traditional and beloved golf course. I think we are all sad to see the tournament moving away."

Oak Hills's challenging layout has seen its share of championships and will host its 29th PGA Tour event when 78 Champions Tour players tee it up Friday.

Those who have won at Oak Hills reads like a Who's Who of golf. The club hosted the Texas Open from 1961 to 1966 and from 1977 to 1994 and was the venue for the Nabisco Championships of Golf in 1987 (currently known as the Tour Championship), and has hosted the AT&T Championship, a premier Champions Tour event, since 2002. Arnold Palmer won the first two Texas Opens at Oak Hills in 1961 and '62 to set the stage for other champions like Hale Irwin, Lee Trevino, John Mahaffey, Corey Pavin, Mark O'Meara and Nick Price.

The decision to move the tournament has nothing to do with taking the event away from Oak Hills CC. There is little doubt about the course's quality of golf, its shot values, ambiance, tradition, walkability and the friendliness of the galleries. There has been a great player and public outcry to keep the event here, and AT&T management was bombarded with requests to remain at the vaunted venue.

But the move is all about the "Benjamins" - the money, and what AT&T would have to pay to keep the event at Oak Hills.

AT&T spokesman Mike Barger said the telecommunication giant's significant and continued investment in the TPC San Antonio property all but forced the move. AT&T was named rights sponsor of the resort's two layouts in 2008 and, from that point forward, the chances of keeping the tournament at Oak Hills dimmed more with each passing day. "Our investment in the PGA Tour is highlighted by our investment with the TPC San Antonio and the JW Marriott project," Barger said.

There are no doubt practical reasons to switch to AT&T Canyons. TPC layouts, operated by the PGA Tour, do not require usage fees for its events. The usage fees for this year's tournament at Oak Hills is reported to be just less than $250,000 for the week and is the first line item to be addressed before proceeds from the tournament are distributed to its charity initiatives.

Trevino, who won the Texas Open at Oak Hills in 1980, said the chance to play the course in competition one last time prompted him to enter this year's event. He has been absent from this tournament since 2007.

"We have seen this day coming, but it's still a shame to move the event away," said Trevino, who has six top-10 finishes in 14 appearances at Oak Hills. "Oak Hills is just the absolute perfect golf course. This is the kind of course we all grew up playing. That's why it's so much fun."

Tom Kite, who finished a shot behind winner Phil Blackmar in the 2009 AT&T Championship, has fond memories of the rounds he's played at Oak Hills. "Golf is about tradition and history, and this course and the club is just layered with those aspects," Kite said. "We will miss playing here, and it would be thrilling to be able to win here. It is a course that will be missed by all of us."

Steve Habel is one of Cybergolf's national correspondents, contributing news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He is also the managing editor for Texas CEO Magazine and works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports. He also writes a blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com), which features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another (www.checkinginandplayingthrough.blogspot.com) on his many travels, which took him across the nation and to 105 different golf course in 2009. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.