BY MIKE FIELDS
When the Barbasol Championship comes to Kentucky this summer, it will be the first time in almost 60 years that the PGA TOUR has made a regular stop in the Bluegrass State.
The Barbasol Championship will be played July 16-22 at Champions at Keene Trace, the first of a four-year commitment to the Nicholasville course.
Checking golf’s archives, the Kentucky Derby Open was held at Seneca Golf Course in Louisville in 1957, ’58 and ’59.
Billy Casper won the inaugural Derby Open in April, 1957. Ten thousand fans watched Casper, 25, shoot a final-round 70 and beat Peter Thomson by a shot. It was the third of his 51 tour victories.
Casper took home $4,300 out of the $30,000 purse. Arnold Palmer and Gary Player tied for 20th and earned $413 apiece. Lexington’s Johnny Owens was low amateur.
The first Derby Open lost $17,000, so to shore up finances for the 1958 tournament, organizers sold $100 sponsorships and reduced the purse to $20,000.
It survived two more years.
Gary Player, a 22-year-old South African, shot a final-round 2-under 69 at Seneca in April, 1958, to beat Chick Harbert and Ernie Vossler by three shots and earn $2,800. Gay Brewer of Lexington tied for 40th.
It was the first of Player’s 25 wins on the PGA TOUR. (He had 165 victories world-wide, including two more in Kentucky. Player won the Bank One Senior Classic at at Kearney Hill Links in Lexington in 1993 and ‘95.)
Don Whitt won what turned out to be the last Derby Open, which was played in late May, 1959.
Whitt, who won the Memphis Open the week before, fired a final-round 67 to beat Jim Ferree by a shot at Seneca and earn $2,800.
A few months later the Indianapolis 500 Festival announced it was putting up a $50,000 purse for a golf tournament in 1960, the same week as the Derby Open.
That was the beginning of the end of the PGA TOUR in Kentucky for almost six decades.
That drought will end this summer, thanks to the efforts of bd Global and the Bluegrass Sports Commission to bring the Barbasol Championship to Champions at Keene Trace.
(Clarification: The PGA of America, not the PGA TOUR, stages the PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup. Both of those events have been played at Valhalla in Louisville over the last 22 years.)