Goodbye to an Old Friend
For the first time in 42 years, the Professional Golf Association will not have an event in Milwaukee. The board of directors of Milwaukee Golf Charities voted to disband this past week, officially ending the Greater Milwaukee Open golf tournament after failing to find a title sponsor that would have allowed it to continue.
Until 2004, the GMO was the only place in Wisconsin for fans to witness golf played at it’s highest level. Thanks to it’s presence, many of golf’s greatest players played in Milwaukee. Over the course of it’s history, the GMO played host to Sam Snead, Gary Player, Ken Venturi, Lee Trevino and Jack Nicklaus. More recently, it was notable for being the first professional tournament played by Tiger Woods, who finished in 60th place in 1996. It also provided the best opportunity to follow Wisconsin native tour players like Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly, who remained loyal to the tourney to the end.
Unfortunately, the tournament was doomed by it’s close chronological proximity to the British Open, prompting most of the tour’s top stars to skip participation in favor of practicing overseas. Ironically, Stricker’s resurgence the last few years may have unwittingly contributed to the GMO’s demise by allowing him to qualify for the British Open, thereby eliminating a popular attendance draw for the event. The emergence of Herb Kohler’s golf properties around his hometown had also removed some of the cache of the GMO, overshadowing it’s field with Whistiling Straits playing host to 2004′s PGA championship as well as being scheduled for another one this next summer and a Ryder Cup competition in 2020.
Kohler’s promotion of golf in Wisconsin at least ensures that the PGA will have a continued presence in the Badger state. But what won’t be repeated is the intimate setting that the GMO provided. It was neat to be only 3 feet away from Carlos Franco as he played a shot on his run to the 1999 title or to watch Mark Calcavecchia ‘go ballistic’ over a missed birdie putt (and see fellow pro Joey Sindelar laughing about it). The tournament’s Brown Deer Park setting also afforded duffers like myself a chance to play a PGA venue and not be completely embarrassed (believe me, Chris; it could have been worse). What will also be missed is the tens of millions of dollars that the GMO provided to local charities over it’s lifespan.
It has been reported that Stricker and Kelly were working on a plan to keep the GMO going but apparently their plans haven’t come together yet. Hopefully, they can come up with something to bring the PGA tour to Wisconsin on a yearly basis, but the chances are that it won’t be the same.