Forty-nine years ago next month, Dave Stockton walked off the 18th green at Braemar Golf Course after finishing third in the Minnesota Golf Classic and addressed some of the groans that the tournament’s future was in jeopardy.
“I only hope they realize how fortunate they are to have something here like this,” he said.
Nearly five decades later, the PGA Tour is finally back.
Rumor became reality Monday at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine when 3M and the PGA Tour officially announced the 3M Open will be part of the 2019 FedEx Cup schedule.
It’s a seven-year agreement, with a purse starting at $6.6 million and increasing each year through the contract.
No dates for the event have been announced; the PGA Tour will release its full schedule July 10. A strong possibility is the holiday week of July 1-7 in 2019, moving into the slot occupied by the Greenbrier in West Virginia, which is switching to a fall tournament.
Hollis Cavner, whose Pro Links Sports operates three events on tour, would only say Minnesota’s new tournament will be held in June or July, and it was a date he wanted.
“This isn’t just big for 3M or for Anoka County, this is big for Minnesota,” said Cavner, who first bid for a Minnesota PGA Tour event eight years ago. “This place deserves it.”
The announcement marks the end of a PGA Tour Champions presence in Minnesota. The 3M Championship will hold its 26th — and final — 54-hole, 50-and-over event August 3-5 in Blaine.
Cavner said it was “time to move to the next level,” adding a PGA Tour event is about triple the size in terms of planning, infrastructure and impact.
“People are going to be amazed,” he said.
But what about the course? When the Champions Tour comes to town, super wide fairways, low rough and accessible pin placements make it an annual fan-friendly birdie-fest.
Since 2001, when the 3M Championship moved from Bunker Hills in Coon Rapids to TPC Twin Cities, the final winning score reached 15 under or lower 12 of 17 times. The winner has finished 18 under or lower each of the past six years.
To compare, eight of 25 full-field events so far this season on the PGA Tour have finished with a winning score of 18 under or lower for 72 holes.
“Right now, the way [the course] is set up everybody in the field can shoot a low score,” said Minnesota native Tom Lehman, a five-time PGA Tour winner who co-designed TPC Twin Cities with the late Arnold Palmer. “The course doesn’t separate the field at all. And that’s not really PGA Tour-caliber strategy. You want to make guys earn it and separate those who are playing well and those who are playing poorly.”
Within the past few days, Lehman accepted Cavner’s request to work with the PGA Tour to massage the course into shape.
The process includes adding about 500 yards of length, narrowing the fairways and expanding some bunkers. Work will start at end of the summer, after the 3M Championship, and completed gradually.
“I’d make it a tough driving course,” Lehman said. “The easiest way to do that is to firm it up, narrow it up and grow some rough.”
Cavner spent part of last week in New York at the U.S. Open, where he said news of the PGA Tour coming to Minnesota had trickled into the players’ locker room.
While not an official recruiting trip, Cavner reported positive reactions from inside.
“A lot of them saw the large crowds, the positive crowds at the Ryder Cup; guys remember that,” Cavner said.
Cavner acknowledged it will be difficult to attract the tour’s top tier at first. But Tiger Woods played in Cavner’s events in Tampa and Charlotte this season and “you can bet we’ll be going after him.”
The 3M Open will not include free admission, which the 3M Championship has offered for several years. Instead, Cavner said, tickets are expected to be somewhere between $25-$65. Also announced Monday was a new 3M Open Fund benefiting local charities. All proceeds from the event will go to the fund.
“The tour doesn’t want to go anywhere it’s not going to be successful,” Cavner said. “Seeing what’s happened here in the past was a big, big checkmark for us.”