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Toshiba Classic strong after early tensions

By Orange County Register

Categories: Featured News
October 29, 2015

The players, fans and volunteers change from year to year at the Toshiba Classic at Newport Beach Country Club, while the PGA Champions Tour has touched generations in its length of time at one location.

As the world’s greatest 50-and-older golfers tee it up this weekend, the one mainstay is the lead charity – Hoag Hospital.

Hoag has operated the Toshiba Classic since 1998, and the event has been played at Newport Beach every year except the inaugural tournament in 1995 at Mesa Verde Country Club in Costa Mesa. This year the Toshiba Classic will be played in the fall for the first time, skipping the March slot on the calendar after two decades.

It will also be the first time the event is played during drought-stricken, state-mandated water restrictions.

This year’s 21st Toshiba Classic is the second-to-last stop on the Champions Tour, ushering in the player points-culmination season-finale Charles Schwab Championship in Arizona.

But whatever time of year PGA Tour officials decide to schedule the Toshiba Classic, the event, which has raised more $1 million each year since 1999 for various charities, will be steered by a nonprofit that many view as the most important venue in our community.

“Hey, let’s face it (a volunteer, sponsor or donor), might have to be there at Hoag Hospital one day,” former tour golfer Bruce Summerhays once said of the explanation behind the event’s army of supporters and volunteers, which has allowed the Toshiba Classic to become the most philanthropic event on the Champions Tour.

Hoag took over as managing operator of the event following an acrimonious split, after the 1997 tournament, between the event’s managing operator and the former owner of the country club.

While the Toshiba Classic will be celebrating its 21st year, it is only the 18th with Hoag as the managing operator and Jeff Purser as tournament director. An Ohio State graduate, Purser served as tournament director of another event when the tour asked him to assume tournament director duties at Newport Beach. The tournament has generated almost $18 million to benefit Hoag and other charities in the previous 17 years.

But long before the Toshiba Classic became a pillar of success, there was some question about whether the event would even remain after three tournaments. That’s because the former country club owner issued a statement to the tour saying it would no longer host the event if the same managing operator continued to work the tournament.

The tour and its players have always loved Newport Beach Country Club and its easy-to-walk layout. It has often been described as the perfect 50-and-over and spectator-friendly golf course. The tour wanted to keep the Toshiba Classic at Newport Beach, but the former managing operator, International Sports and Event Management (ISM), wasn’t going away without a fight. After all, ISM founder Bob Neely was responsible for putting Toshiba together with the tour.

However, disputes between ISM and the country club eventually forced the Tour’ to find another lead charity to manage the event, and Hoag Hospital entered the picture. Hoag arrived with key ingredients to operate a golf tournament to the tour’s specifications – a large network of volunteers who were committed to Hoag and had already been managing a highly successful, 23-year-old pro-am co-founded by the late Bing Crosby.

The committee of Hoag volunteers ended what later became the Taco Bell Newport Classic Pro-Am and poured their heart and soul into the Toshiba Classic.

Proceeds from the 2015 Toshiba Classic will benefit the Mary & Dick Allen Diabetes Center at Hoag, which provides services for those with or at risk for diabetes regardless of their ability to pay.

Richard Dunn is a sports writer who lives in Newport Beach. He’s also a coach of multiple sports and a former professional baseball player. Contact him at [email protected]

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