As the Toshiba Classic returns to Newport Beach Country Club March 9-11, the PGA Tour Champions has become one of the most successful stops on the 50-plus circuit because of its managing charity, Hoag Hospital, and its army of support.
But the inside scoop is that the players love the golf course.
In an age of longer, bigger and supposedly better golf courses, the 6,600-yard par-71 at Newport Beach is a mature, tree-lined golf course and refreshing for members of the seniors tour when they play in the Toshiba. It would be difficult to make Newport Beach any longer because it is surrounded by development, and the changes that have been made to the golf course since it opened in 1953 have been positive upgrades and refurbishments.
“It’s the perfect seniors’ golf course,” said the first Toshiba winner at Newport Beach, Jim Colbert, a two-time Champions Tour money leader.
After skipping the Tour in 2017 – the Toshiba Classic was last played in October 2016 – the event has come back to March, its original place on the Tour schedule since 1995. This will be the 23rd Toshiba Classic and 20th under the direction of Hoag Hospital.
But it wasn’t always smooth sailing for the tournament in the early years, before Hoag stepped in and produced $1 million in charitable donations each year.
Since 1998, Hoag has managed the Toshiba under Tournament Executive Director Jeff Purser, who came along with the package two decades ago, and the team has provided an annual staple of record-setting charitable success and quality golf entertainment.
“We are proud to host the only official PGA Tour Champions event in Orange County,” Purser said. “Over two decades, we have raised more than $20 million for Hoag Hospital and more than 45 other local charities. This is our annual opportunity to showcase the best of our community, as the tournament draws over 80,000 patrons, 200-plus sponsors and more than 1,000 volunteers every year. In addition, the Toshiba Classic fills local hotel rooms, restaurants and businesses during tournament week, providing an enormous influx of dollars into our local economy.”
Those are magic words for the folks at Visit Newport Beach and the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce, but the event almost didn’t survive after its third year because of an acrimonious split between the managing operator and the former owner of the country club.
Local Hoag volunteers and golf officials, however, saved the Toshiba Classic when they were asked by the PGA Tour to take over as the managing charity. That same group of volunteers had successfully operated a mini-tour event for 23 years at the same location. There were several names for the tournament, including the Newport Classic Pro-Am and the Crosby Southern Pro-Am. It was founded by the late Bing Crosby.
The Crosby Southern, or “Little Crosby,” was a stop for professional golfers who didn’t make the cut at Bing Crosby’s famous National Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. The entertainer and avid golfer wanted to provide a place to play for those left out in the cold at Pebble, so along with his friends Charley Hester and Marshall Duffield, Crosby gave his blessing to a pro-am at the former Irvine Coast Country Club (now Newport Beach) in 1975.
The Crosby Southern featured up-and-coming stars on the PGA Tour and journeyman players trying to hang on in their later years.
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