Monday, Oct. 20, 1997 | 4:18 a.m.
When it comes to championship golf, the Sheraton Desert Inn's world-famous course is rich with tradition. The resort has had the distinction of being the only golf course in the United States to have annually hosted three championship tour events -- the PGA Tour's Las Vegas Invitational, the Las Vegas Senior Classic and the LPGA Las Vegas International.
After a two-year absence as one of the satellite courses used during the LVI, during which the course underwent a renovation, the Desert Inn Golf Club returned last year as one of the three courses hosting the PGA Tour event and in 1997 remains in the three-course rotation.
After opening in 1952, the Desert Inn golf course played host to the famed Tournament of Champions from its inception in 1953 through 1966. Winners of this prestigious PGA tourney include Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Mike Souchak, Stan Leonard and Sam Snead. Golf enthusiasts will long remember the Tournament of Champions at the Desert Inn where the $10,000 prize money was paid in silver dollars -- and presented to the champion in a wheelbarrow.
The PGA Tour returned to the Desert Inn in 1983 with the Panasonic Las Vegas Invitational (now the Las Vegas Invitational), then the richest PGA event in the world. Winners have included Fuzzy Zoeller, Curtis Strange, Greg Norman, Paul Azinger, Bob Tway, Andrew Magee and Davis Love III.
The Las Vegas Senior Classic was added to the Senior PGA Tour in 1986 with the venerable Desert Inn as the host. The Senior PGA Tour event brought the "greats of golf" back to the Desert Inn, as many of these golfers were former Tournament of Champions players.
Bruce Crampton won the first Las Vegas Senior Classic in 1986. Al Geiberger, who tied the course record of 62, won the tourney in 1987. In 1988, Larry Mowry was the tournament champion, followed by Charles Coody and Chi Chi Rodriguez, who won the event in both 1990 and 1991. Lee Trevino raised the winner's trophy in 1992, as did Gibby Gilbert in 1993.
The ladies have played the course, too. Ayako Okamoto, Nancy Lopez, Pat Bradley, Donna Caponi, Patty Sheehan and Sandra Palmer all have proudly raised their winner's trophies on the DI's greens. The LPGA events included the J&B Scotch Pro-Am (1980-85), the J&B Gold Putt-Off (1979-1983), the Sealy Classic and the Desert Inn Classic. In 1990, the Desert Inn welcomed their return with the Las Vegas International, which was won by Maggie Will. Penny Hammond took top honors in 1991 and Dana Lofland followed suit in 1992.
Besides the pros, the course at the resort has hosted entertainers, European royalty and U.S. presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Gerald Ford. Each person has added something special to the course's colorful history.
Amateur golfers have found the course long on challenge as well. Since 1958, the Golf Cup Golf Tournament, the largest amateur golf tournament in the world, annually has brought hundreds of golfers to the resort course. They play for the right to have their team's name engraved on a half-million-dollar trophy on permanent display at the resort.
Named one of the Top Resort Courses by Golf Digest Magazine, the tradition of golf at the Sheraton Desert Inn continues to become richer every day.