Shore Course hosted the LPGA but will also stand up to the male pros

One of the most fascinating moments in the history of golf in the desert came in 1976, and hardly anyone knows about it, because it was a tournament that was somehow an overlooked part of golf.

It was December 1976 and the World Cup of Golf was being played at what was still a relatively new Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage. Forty-three two-man teams representing 43 countries played four days at Mission Hills. Team USA was represented by US Open winner Jerry Pate and PGA Championship winner that year Dave Stockton. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find a 21-year-old player in the Australian squad named Greg Norman. Spain had an even younger budding star in 19-year-old Seve Ballesteros. Germany’s two-man squad included Bernhard Langer, also 19 and just a few months younger than Ballesteros.

Looking back, with the addition of other well-known names in the field like Brian Barnes, George Knutson, Dan Halldorson, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Sam Torrance and more, the 1976 World Cup was certainly one of the greatest gatherings of golf talent in the desert, even though some of that talent hadn’t had time to accomplish much yet.

It’s interesting now because this World Cup in Mission Hills (there was another one in the desert in 1985 at the Mountain Course at La Quinta Resort) showed that what is now called the Dinah Shore Tournament Course can easily challenge male professionals as well as he has done female players for 51 years. Ballesteros and Manuel Pinero won the tournament just 2 over par for 72 holes, edging out an American team that finished tied.

David Duval, right, reacts as a video clip of his 1999 American Express victory is played as GRAIL CEO Bob Ragusa looks on during a press conference at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California, April 19, 2022.

Langer couldn’t have known that 47 years later he could be playing on the same course next May at a PGA Tour Champions event. The Galleri Classic will be played in March 2023 and Langer will be 65 years old. Langer is still a wonder on the tour, having won earlier this year at 64 for his 43rd career PGA Tour Champions win. Why not go back to the desert and win again at 65?

Langer is one of many PGA Tour Champions players now with histories at the PGA Tour desert event, formerly the Bob Hope and now the American Express. Langer played a big role in the infamous 1987 Hope, played at PGA West’s Stadium Course. Players hated the new Pete Dye course so much that he was kicked out of the tournament after just one year. But during that year, Langer finished 18 under par, losing to a birdie putt from Corey Pavin on the 90th hole of the five-day event.

Jay Haas, Fred Couples, Tom Kite, Kenny Perry, Joe Durant, Mike Weir and Brian Gay are other former American Express winners who are active on the 50+ tour. Phil Mickelson played a limited schedule on the senior circuit, while Golf Channel broadcasters Lanny Wadkins, John Cook and John Mahaffey all won the former Hope. Cook, in fact, grew up in Mission Hills under the watchful eye of Ken Venturi. The PGA Tour champions make no secret of drawing a direct line with the PGA Tour event of the desert and its new senior event.

It would be a mistake to believe that the senior men will tear up the Shore Course. The Shore Course is not a women’s golf course. This is a terrific golf course that has settled in well for LPGA players for 51 years. It sets up well for recreational players. It will be great for the senior men, likely stretching to over 7,000 yards for the Galleri Classic.

It’s certainly understandable that LPGA players and fans of this tour are scratching their heads today wondering how this tour left Mission Hills after 51 years to be immediately taken over by the PGA Tour champions. But as one PGA Tour Champions official put it, the LPGA chose to leave – with a ton of outside circumstances involved – while the PGA Tour Champions choose to come to the desert.

For now, the desert has a new tournament to look forward to. And Langer, for his part, will have fond memories of playing the course in 1976 to tap.

Larry Bohannan Larry Bohannan (Richard Him The Desert Sun)

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