Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Rick Cleveland: Sanderson Farms Champeenship comes to town.

The Sanderson Farms Championship, Mississippi's stop on the PGA Tour, began in Hattiesburg 48 years ago as the Magnolia State Classic.

It was played in May, opposite the Colonial Invitational. B.R. “Mac” McLendon, a rookie fresh out of LSU, won the first tournament he ever entered, defeating veteran pro Pete Fleming in a nine-hole playoff.

They actually played 45 holes that Sunday long ago, because of rains that had flooded the Hattiesburg Country Club earlier in the week.

In fact, rains have been pretty much the one constant in the once humble, little tournament that has evolved into a $4.1 million annual tour stop televised around the world by The Golf Channel.

If the weather forecast is correct, this year's tournament will break that muddy mold. Sunny skies, with highs in the low to mid 80s are predicted. There is no more than a 20 percent chance of rain any day. Perfect.

All the pro-am spots and sponsorships are sold. The field will include several former major championship winners. The CCJ course is in pristine condition.

Indeed, it appears that this is the year it all comes together for the event Sports Illustrated once dubbed “the little golf tournament that could.”

No matter who wins the tournament, the big winner will be Mississippi charities, including Blair E. Batson Children's Hospital, which last year reaped more than $1.1 million from the event.

What follows is a short history lesson about the tournament that has been called the Magnolia State Classic, The Deposit Guaranty Classic, the Southern Farm Bureau Classic, the Viking Classic, the True South Classic, and finally the Sanderson Farms Championship.

Herschel Walker is among the celebrities who will play in Wednesday's pro-am. Back in the early days, in Hattiesburg, the pro-am was the social event of the year and attracted many stars from Hollywood and professional sports. Hattiesburg schools closed for the day and massive crowds came out for the day.

Clint Eastwood played there and so did Mickey Mantle. Joe DiMaggio took part, as did Glen Campbell, Phil Harris, Dizzy Dean, Charley Pride and many, many more. Clint Eastwood finally gave up and quit because of the teenyboppers who were running across the fairway and picking up his golf balls as souvenirs.

Ol' Diz shot a 75 on his own ball in the pro-am, hitting a slice that started on the left tree line and usually ended up in the middle of the fairway. When a fan asked him about his slice, he laughed and said, “Podnuh, you'd slice it, too, if you had to swing around this belly.”

For years, we were told that Dean Martin was coming to play in the pro-am, but Dino never made it. One time, the explanation, never confirmed, was that he had been served divorce papers on the tarmac at the airport as he was about to catch the private flight to Hattiesburg.

Several of golf's greatest players in history participated before they became famous: Johnny Miller and Tom Watson both played in Hattiesburg in their early 20s. The late Payne Stewart won at Hattiesburg before he started wearing knickers. Jim Gallagher, Jr. won one of the many rain-shortened events.

Surely one of the most popular-ever players to compete was Chi Chi Rodriguez, who wielded his putter like a sword and who made even bogeys look like fun.

After that first Magnolia State Classic, the tournament was played opposite The Masters for the next 25 years. It has also been played opposite the British Open, the Tour Championship, the Ryder Cup, the Presidents Cup and various World Golf Championship (WGC) events.

This year, it is opposite the WGC event, played in Shanghai, China, where most of the world's top-ranked players will compete.

One, William McGirt, who finished second here last year and won Jack Nicklaus' Memorial Tournament this summer, decided not to make the trip to China. Instead, he will take the week off and play here in Wednesday's pro-am. PGA rules prohibit McGirt playing in the Sanderson if he is eligible for the WGC event. McGirt doesn't want to fly 12 hours both ways to China and he does want to support the tournament here. So, he'll play in the pro-am only.

In the 48-year history of Mississippi's only PGA event, that's a first.

Rick Cleveland is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist. His email address is cleveland@mississippitoday.org.

19 comments:

Par Not said...

What is the 'real' reason they left Madison for Jackson? It's a given that none of the participants or hundreds of crew members and others stay overnight in Jackson except a handful at The Hilton.

Anonymous said...

Some of the CCJ members wanted their egos stroked by playing on the 2nd best golf course layout on Old Canton Road. PGA Tour does not care where they play as long as the check is there on Sunday afternoon. The tour players are not allowed to talk negatively about playing in the swamp behind the CCJ clubhouse

Anonymous said...

11:30

Someone who was denied a membership to CCJ.

Anonymous said...

the facts are--PGA officials were dumfounded when they visited CCJ, saw the physical facilities and quality of golf course---THEIR question was--"why have we never considered THIS venue for our tournament?" The answer is not relevant--what's important is Joe Sanderson's response when HE ASKED ONE QUESTION---IF we move tournament to CCJ will it result in MORE of LESS contribution to Children's Hospital? The response was-- SUBSTANTIALLY MORE!!---HIS response was MORE TELLING---THEN WHY ARE U STILL SITTING HERE WASTING TIME----MAKE IT HAPPEN --NOW!!!!

Anonymous said...

PGA event but not a PGA course.

Anonymous said...

Wish Rick had given some credit to Robert Morgan...the Executive Director of the tournament and the creator of it.

Mr. Morgan is still in Hattiesburg, and is having some serious health issues recently. Please pray for a speedy recovery for him.

Anonymous said...

Glad it's here.

Glad it makes money for charity.

Thankful for CCJ members for hosting it.

Jesus y'all are some petty assholes.

Nack Jiggalous said...

Has Rick Cleveland EVER given credit to any living person in one of his articles?

Anonymous said...

Yes, the PGA Magnolia Classic. Watched Clint Eastwood, Mickey Mantle, and countless other notable amateurs and pros play, at the HCC.

Back-Swing said...

@ 1:30 - The event makes money for charity no matter where it's held. The point is it ought NOT be held in Jacktown. No reason for it other than money crossing palms. Ought to be held in Madison where the state was showcased on international television (albeit rather weak reporting and spotty footage). What can be shown near the Jacktown Country Club other than the Krystal at the corner? Or maybe the 'shuttle' from the vacant Kroger over to the 'venue'.

This is akin to a beauty pageant in downtown Birmingham.

Anonymous said...

449 - Madison County idiot. If comparing the area surrounding the two clubs there was nothing more than hay pastures surrounding Annandale either. Issue was the on-site facilities and JCC won that comparison.

Anonymous said...

Some of the money needs to go to fixing the streets and maybe helping JSU through this brief shortage of working capital.

Anonymous said...

4:49 AM = Idiot anywhere he lives. The point was NOT to showcase the State of Madison on international television. That was the local mindset which brought the tournament to the brink of insolvency - and the PGA was tired of that sense of entitlement. Obviously, the CCJ pro forma justified the move and vastly increased Century Club contributions back up the decision. The only money crossing palms is the huge check handed to the Children's Hospital. Instead of sucking on sour grapes get out and volunteer...

BTW: What, specifically, would be wrong with a beauty pageant held in downtown Birmingham - or Jackson?...

Anonymous said...

As long as the Sanderson clan is willing to pony up the money for an event on a pitch-n-putt golf course more power to them.

Ghetto Golf Clap said...

10:40 - If you have to axe that question, ain't nobody here can help you! So jess be on your way in your double-knit yeller britches and cheap-assed clubs.

If you were to play in a tournament like this, would you rather be in a beautiful, safe environment with a handful of really safe hotels and eateries or would you rather be chauffeured into and out of the ghetto wondering where you might eat supper and whether caps would pop at the hotel? With apologies to the Bass Master's Tourny participant who was shot dead two miles to the west of this venue two years ago.

Anonymous said...

I'm hearing it may move to Pearl Municipal next year to create more of a challenge for the pros.

Judge Rudy said...

The Magnolia Classic was fun. No gallery ropes - you could walk in the fairway and talk to the golfers. I remember seeing Orville Moody, Homero Blancas, Dave Hill, Nick Faldo and many young up-and-comers who went on to stellar careers.

Dohn Jaley said...

Steve Azar was interviewed at length today on Head To Head with Richard Cross and Matt Wyatt. Steve apparently played a round or two in this celebrity event. He's a good ambassador for Mississippi.

But, you can only put so much lipstick on the Pig that is Jackson.

Sanderson is to golf what Mike Espy was to chickens. Scratch your head on that one for awhile.

Anonymous said...

Don't have to scratch my head to understand your reference to Tyson with Espy. But be damned if I can figure out what that has to do with Sanderson and their sponsorship of a golf tournament - good advertising for the company, great PR move for the state, part of their stewardship and giving back.

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