The 1991 U.S. Open changed the image of Hazeltine National as a championship course and created a reputation for Minnesota as home to a madness for watching golf. I’m not sure we’re as special as given credit for in that area.
Yes, the carry-over of golf excitement from ’91 was phenomenal in 1993, when the first Burnet Senior Classic was held at Bunker Hills. Many thousands showed up simply to watch players on the driving range early in the week, and then watch them combat the rain over the weekend.
By 2001, the names had been changed to the Champions Tour and the 3M Championship, and the venue became TPC Twin Cities in Blaine. The Greats of Golf and free admission made for sizable crowds on occasion, and it outlasted most every senior event on the schedule.
The 26th and final edition was held last weekend, and there was a serious lack of support from the players. Only two of the top 10 in the points race deigned to play in the week after the Senior British Open, and the 78-player field was overflowing with minor names and alternates.
On Sunday, Kenny Perry finished his third 3M victory to what sounded like a couple of hundred hands clapping.
The playing field and reception of golf fans will be much greater Sept. 21-23, when the Champions Tour starts what should be a popular run in Sioux Falls, S.D. with the Sanford International.
From here, it was a surprise to see the lack of loyalty from top players to the final 3M Championship, knowing as they did that Hollis Cavner and Pro Links Sports basically were replacing it as a Midwest stop with the Sanford.
What seems clear is 3M wanted a more exciting vibe for its sponsorship dollars — more fans, corporate tents, atmosphere and spectacular shots — and was willing to pay for that. After a few years of trying to wedge a place in the PGA Tour schedule, 3M and Pro Links were able to land in the 2018-19 wraparound schedule:
The first 3M Open, July 4-7, 2019, at a modified TPC Twin Cities.
The increased investment is huge, starting with the purse: $1.75 million for the last 3M Championship; $6.6 million for the first 3M Open.
There’s a challenge that goes beyond the competition of a sizable percentage of Twin Cities sports enthusiasts also being fans of heading “Up North’’ for a long Fourth of July weekend.
There’s also this: Are we the golf hotbed for which we’ve received credit?
Minnesotans stormed Hazeltine and the merchandise tent for the ’91 Open, and then did the same for the 2002 and the 2009 PGA Championships. Tiger was here those past two times. You could have put 40,000 people on a course in Albuquerque for Tiger in those years.
And we went berserk for the Ryder Cup at the end of September in 2016. Mostly, it was a happening for a hard-partying crowd that was on the grounds to consume beer, holler patriotic nonsense, and then to tell friends they were there and it was a great, even though they didn’t actually see a shot.
That doesn’t make you a great golf town. It makes you a great money venue for the PGA of America — so pleased with those scores of millions that it’s bringing back the Ryder Cup to Hazeltine in 2028.
Hazeltine also agreed to take the 2019 KPMG Women’s PGA, and it will be held two weeks (June 20-23) before the first 3M Open.
Whatever the competition, a women’s major or Gull Lake over the Fourth, it’s vital for the 3M Open to get off to a good start by finding a younger, party-hearty crowd that wasn’t going to embrace senior golf.
TPC Twin Cities doesn’t have a hole that can replicate the 16th at the Phoenix event, but there is room behind the par-3 13th and alongside the par-5 18th that could become a mingling place for … well, young people who like beer.
The Fourth of July has been tough for drawing a field in the past, but the new PGA Tour schedule — with the Tour Championship at the end of August — will make the 3M Open a more important stop for FedEx points. There will be only two full-field, full-points weekly events left on the schedule after the stop in Blaine.
I’ve been saying Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas or Jordan Spieth … 3M and Cavner need one of the three to properly sell this thing. Tiger or Phil? That would be a bonus.
Minnesota needs a new generation of golf watchers for the 3M Open to become an annual happening on our sports schedule, and DJ, Thomas or Spieth could get that started.