Changing of the Guard: New Galleri Classic Set to Debut in the Desert
In what can be viewed as an unprecedented, albeit unofficial baton pass, the Coachella Valley is trading one pro golf tour for another this spring.
As many will recall, last April, following 51 years of LPGA tradition, the major championship colloquially known as “The Dinah” played its final incarnation at Mission Hills CC in Rancho Mirage, with new sponsor Chevron subsequently relocating the event to Houston.
Just two weeks after the final Dinah, though, the PGA Tour Champions announced the arrival of the Galleri Classic. Set to debut this Mar. 24-26 and to be played on the same Tournament Course that long hosted the ladies, the unveil provided not merely solace to the local community but, more importantly, advance.
Long removed from its heyday and with a continually shrinking fanbase, the LPGA’s desert presence wasn’t just on life support, the event had all but flatlined. The most fans I ever saw in a dozen years covering the event were this past spring, when folks came to say goodbye.
The PGA Tour Champions’ 50-plus product should prove a far better fit.
“We plan to make it our own,” said Michelle DeLancy, tournament director for the Galleri Classic. “When going around the community, people are excited to see these players who have been on the PGA Tour and Tour Champions for many years, players who people have grown up watching. I think that’s what’s really going to drive people here, possibly more than the LPGA event did, because of all our recognizable names.”
From a fan demographic vantage, mid-valley cities Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert and Indian Wells all sport a median age of at least 55, according to U.S. Census stats. Those are numbers that will behoove a rebirth of professional golf in the desert.
Based on her longtime work running the Boeing Classic in Seattle, DeLancy is closely connected to the PGA Tour Champions. It’s locally hoped and intimated that said relationships will bring in a stellar Galleri field sporting the likes of Fred Couples (who has a home in the area), Ernie Els, John Daly, David Duval, Padraig Harrington, Steve Stricker, Miguel Ángel Jiménez, Jim Furyk and locally connected John Cook.
And, perhaps most important, Bernhard Langer. In earnest pursuit of one of sport’s most underrated achievements, Langer, with 44 wins on PGA Tour Champions, stands just one title shy of Hale Irwin’s record. With the Galleri standing sixth on the Champs’ schedule — the stop follows the Hoag Classic at Newport Beach CC — what a superb tourney debut it would be to see the record tied (or broken!) in the desert.
Of course, for the winner, the question is already begged: Will the 50-plus set carry over the famed ladies’ tradition of a victor’s leap into Poppie’s Pond beside the par-5 home hole?
“That (tradition) was great for the LPGA, and that was their thing; but I don’t see that as a setup or promotion for our event,” DeLancy said. “I won’t say whether the eventual champion will or won’t (leap), that’s up to them. But we won’t be having a champion’s robe in the clubhouse, or anything like that.”
Of course, as one of the planet’s most fit 65-year-olds, Langer could no doubt contort one hell of a cannonball into that pond. And the splash of a new era would aptly crest the desert pain of losing a major toward a celebration wave of fresh tradition.