Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2013 | 2 a.m.
The Las Vegas stop on the PGA Tour has produced some memorable moments over the past 30 years.
The tournament was the first to offer a $1 million purse, Tiger Woods won his first professional event here in 1996 and notables such as Greg Norman, Curtis Strange and Fuzzy Zoeller have each also won here.
But the tournament lacked big-name participants in recent years, primarily because it was at the end of the PGA season as part of the fall series.
That won’t be the case this year.
The Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, which begins Thursday at the par-72, 7,243-yard TPC Summerlin, now awards points in the chase for the FedEx Cup to give the Las Vegas stop a boost in importance. Each golfer making the cut will earn points, with 500 points going to the winner.
The winner also receives an automatic berth into the 2014 Masters. The player purse also increased this year from $5 million to $6 million.
“We’re part of the big boys now,” said Donna Millwood, the event’s finance and volunteer services manager.
Five players who finished in the top 30 of last season’s FedEx Cup are scheduled to participate in this year’s Shriners Open field, including 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson.
In an attempt to boost the profile of the fall series, the PGA changed the FedEx Cup points calendar, which made the Shriners Open — and other events such as the Frys.com Open earlier this month in California — part of the beginning of the chase. That inclusion makes the local event the second where FedEx points are available.
“In the long run it’s really, really good for the PGA Tour,” said Johnson, who was fifth in points last season. “You’ve got bigger, better tournaments for us players, and more than that, our title sponsors are happy with FedEx Cup points.
“So I mean I think the positives are plentiful, and as a result, you’re seeing guys show up in the fall that typically don’t play,” he continued.
Attendance has steadily increased since the Shriners started hosted five years ago, from 12,500 attendees to 35,000 last year, tournament director Adam Sperling said. This year, largely because of the more impressive field of players, he expects a jump to 50,000 spectators over the four days.
The growth helps the charitable side of the tournament. While there is no Shriners Hospital in Southern Nevada, Millwood said the organization treats more than 500 local children at facilities in Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and Sacramento, Calif. Also, organizations in Las Vegas receive donations from the tournament with $111,000 going to local groups in 2012, Millwood said.
Some of the local organizations and events to benefit from include the Goodie Two Shoes Foundation Rockin’ Walk, the Charley Hoffman Foundation Las Vegas Pro-Am and Clark County School District Day.
“There is really no telling the magnitude of the care they have provided … how it has impacted so many individuals connected to the patients themselves,” Sperling said.
Gaines is a UNLV journalism student