Pro-am in swing at Classic tourney
VALENCIA – Nice weather greeted golfers at the Valencia Country Club on Monday for the kickoff of the AT&T Champions Classic pro-am, which is expected to generate more than $8 million for the Santa Clarita Valley. “We’re thrilled the sun is out, it’s actually more like summertime than spring,” said Jason Crawford, Santa Clarita’s film and tourism administrator. “Last year was so cold people were running around like Chicken Little, thinking the snow was going to fall from the sky!” With a high hitting 95 degrees, 25 teams hit the links in a shotgun start for an event that’s been hosted by the city of Santa Clarita seven times now. “Last year it brought $8 million to the valley and we expect that to be higher this year with the (nice) weather,” said Craig Cliver, the club’s head golf pro. The city’s share comes from sales and hotel taxes. Last year, the event drew 40,000 visitors from all over the world. Mark O’Meara, a 16-time winner on the PGA Tour who just turned 50 – the tour’s qualifying age – is not expected until later in the week, but no matter. Proceeds from the event will be split among several charities, but the main beneficiary is Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital. Last year’s pro-am netted the hospital $120,000. Among the 80 pros vying for the championship are Hale Irwin, Jerry Pate, Ben Crenshaw, Fuzzy Zoeller and Tom Kite, who is defending his 2006 title. The purse is $1.6 million; the winner’s take should be $240,000. The five-person teams feature a pro and a foursome – who collectively pay $7,000 for the privilege. The event has raised roughly $400,000 for local charities over the years. Community leaders on the links included Bob Haueter, Chris Fall, Don Fleming, City Manager Ken Pulskamp, Assistant City Manager Ken Striplin, Public Works Director Robert Newman and Santa Clarita City Councilman Bob Kellar. “It’s so exciting to have the (tour) here in Santa Clarita,” Kellar said in the morning. “I hope it’s something we’ll be able to have here for many years to come.” Negotiations are continuing for a new multiyear contract. Kellar has experience on the course, playing with friends who belong to the pricey club. Among the scores of volunteers on hand to help out is George Cobb, 78, of Los Angeles, a retired mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service who played on the course years ago when it was still public. Cobb likes to watch the pros, and on Monday he took refuge from the sun under a canopied grandstand while eating lunch. “In baseball, maybe you have one or two favorites, but on the golf course you have four, five, maybe 10 guys you really like to see play,” he said. Some of his favorites will tee off later this week. Cobb is stationed on the driving range, plying golfers with balls. Over the years he’s amassed a collection of balls autographed by Jim Thorpe, Lee Trevino, Kite, Crenshaw and others. “They’re very generous,” he said. Seven-year volunteer Teryl Smith, 46, guards her post by the pro shop. The local resident has been employed by AT&T for 28 years and will bring her daughter and four friends to see the pros on Friday. “I have to give them the golf etiquette – 12-year-old girls chat,” she said. Among her cautions: No cell phones when they’re hitting the ball. “The seniors are great to the kids,” Smith said. “They’re more approachable than the regular tour (players).” Pro Denis Watson, a transplant from Zimbabwe now living in Pacific Palisades, was hitting balls on the driving range. He’s a rookie on the tour, but has played the course twice. “It’s a very challenging golf course, the rough is tough and the fairways are narrow,” he said. “It favors guys who strike the ball well. That’s why I’m practicing.” After he hit one ball 275 yards and another about 280 yards, he said “Oooooh we, I’d like to hit it that nice all week.” After Watson moved on, Cobb swooped in and picked up the golfer’s unused balls. The pros are all PGA tour professionals, some who compete in up to 30 worldwide tournaments annually. The event is being televised nationally on the Golf Channel. More pro-ams follow throughout the week. Other events include today’s Pro-Junior Champions Challenge and the Classic Gala on Wednesday night at the Hyatt Valencia. Professional play begins Friday morning and runs through Sunday afternoon. [email protected] (661) 257-5255 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!