To some pros, Seminole beats Augusta as ‘first major’
Is this like a first major? Since 2004, the Seminole Pro-Member has been played at the famed Donald Ross club on the Monday before Doral. After 54 consecutive years, the PGA Tour has said goodbye to Trump Doral and Miami. As for what some players, including Davis Love III, have termed “the first major of the year,” the show must go on at Seminole Golf Club, in Juno Beach, Fla.
The annual event is held in such high regard that tournament organizers of this week’s World Golf Championships Mexico Championship chartered two planes to fly participants to Mexico City: the first after the weekend’s Honda Classic and the second at 4 p.m. today for the 20 participants at Seminole.
Despite no purse, no TV coverage and no world-ranking points, Seminole’s Pro-Member often attracts more than half of the top 10 in the world. This year, Honda champion Rickie Fowler will shoot for his fourth title, Rory McIlroy
will play his first competitive round since being sidelined with a rib stress fracture and Dustin Johnson will make his first appearance as World No. 1. If not the strongest field of the Florida Swing, the 96-team field is one that most tournament directors would envy.
“A lot of pros, obviously, show up,” Fowler said Sunday night. “It’s fun. It’s kind of fun but serious, but everyone acts like they are just having a good time, but they are being very serious.” As expected in a first major championship.
This one-of-a-kind event dates to 1937, with roots as a big-money Calcutta. According to Seminole head pro Bob Ford, it had reached six figures when the U.S. Golf Association cracked down on such events in 1961. It was resurrected in 2004.
“I look forward to it from the day I get out my clubs to start the new season,” said Love, a former champion who also has won the net division with partner Bill Jones III, the former chief executive officer of Sea Island Resort. “It’s one of the places you get excited just to go.
“I don’t have many trophies on display in my house,” said Love, whose 21 Tour titles include the 1997 PGA Championship, “but I do have the Seminole plaques I won.”
How has this one-day, first major, hit-and-giggle competition achieved such renown? First, there is the Seminole mystique. The 1929 Ross masterpiece, with its domed greens, is a winter retreat for captains of industry. The competition is a celebration of the game at one of American golf’s most prestigious temples. (Seminole ranks No. 12 in Golf Magazine and No. 13 on the Golf Digest and Golfweek top-100 lists.) This is where Ben Hogan came to practice for the Masters. He called No. 6, a 388-yard par 4, his favorite hole in the world.
“If I were a young man going on the pro tour, I’d try to make arrangements to get on Seminole,” Hogan said. “If you can play Seminole, you can play any course in the world.”
Then there is the prestige of having your name on the mahogany board in the northeast corner of the Seminole locker room. Past champions include Hogan, Byron Nelson, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, who played it as recently as 2014, at age 84. (In 2015, he rode around in a cart, and in 2016, grandson Sam Saunders took his place.) Dottie Pepper is the lone female whose name is immortalized on the wall of champions in gold lettering. More recent winners include Fowler, who has paired with his U.S. Walker Cup captain, Buddy Marucci, and defending champ Justin Rose, who teamed with Seth Waugh, the former Deutsche Bank Americas chief executive, to shoot 63.
In 2014, all four major champions from the previous year showed up with their trophies in tow, or in Adam Scott’s case, donning the green jacket. Major stuff, indeed. And definitely the best-attended Monday pro-am in golf.
Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf World and The New York Times. He is the author of Deane Beman: Golf’s Driving Force. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @adamschupak