In the beginning, the January PGA Tour stop in the Southern California desert that began 60 years ago was a celebration of Hollywood movie stars and professional golf that got the winter vacation season in this part of the country off to a rousing start.
Bob Hope became the driving force with his love for golf and celebrity friends who gladly spent a week in this winter oasis making jokes with the other amateurs and pros and helping raise money for local charities in what used to be the Bob Hope Classic.
Now, six decades later, much has changed, but much remains the same as this event has come full circle. Now, instead of Hope as the tournament host, PGA Tour Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson has now become the face of the tournament. And instead of a steady stream of movie notables, the event has now evolved into a golfer’s version of Coachella Music Festival and Stagecoach—the world-renowned concert weekends that highlight the month of April in the Coachella Valley.
American Express signed on to be the new title sponsor and put their stamp on the tournament for the first time in January’s playing of this PGA tournament that is now called The American Express by bringing in music legend Stevie Nicks and country music super star Luke Bryan to entertain record crowds on Friday and Saturday evening after the finish of golf at the PGA West Stadium Course in La Quinta.
Both nights provided an electric atmosphere as the music reverberated off the Santa Rosa Mountains nearby after sunshine-filled days of world-class golf—something that hasn’t changed in all this time.
Another new aspect of the tournament is the behind the scenes involvement by Mickelson, the San Diego native who has formed a new charity along with his management company—Lagardère Sports—to be the non-profit beneficiary behind the tournament that will disperse proceeds to local charities in the Coachella Valley. Lagardère Sports has been managing the event for the past three years and has worked to enhance the fan experience with new hospitality offerings such as the Albertsons Vons Pavilions Club 18, Casamigos Tequila Club 17, Michelob Ultra Beers Fore Birdies, and the Corona Premier Par Tee Lounge.
Even though this event used to be at 90 holes played over 5 days, the current 72-hole format in four days is still one of only two on the PGA Tour that has amateurs playing during the regular competition as the pros are paired with their amateur partners for the first three days in a Pro-Am format.
Among a strong professional field that included Rickie Fowler, Tony Finau and Paul Casey, emerging star Andrew Landry – who lost this tournament in a playoff two years ago – managed to pull out victory this year by shooting 26-under and held off Abraham Ancer by two shots on the final two holes.
Although much has changed with this early-year PGA tournament as it has adapted to the desert’s growing reputation as a music and festival destination, the winter sunshine and world-class golf is still as bright as ever.
Story by Terry Ross