By Marino Parascenzo, Special to PGA.com
LIGONIER, Pa. -- The PGA of America will welcome Arnold Palmer and 10 other longtime friends back to Laurel Valley Golf Club on Wednesday for a kind of class reunion.
Eleven golfers who played in the 1965 PGA Championship and the 1975 Ryder Cup, both held at Laurel Valley, have been invited for a photo session, grouped around the Alfred S. Bourne Trophy (Senior PGA), the Wanamaker Trophy (PGA) and the Ryder Cup to commemorate their play in those events and in the 2005 Senior PGA Championship, which begins Thursday.
Laurel Valley, a Dick Wilson design that opened in 1959, is only the second course in history to play host to the PGA Championship, Ryder Cup and Senior PGA Championship. PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., is the other.
Those players from the '65 PGA who will be at the photo shoot are: Tommy Aaron, Bob Charles, Dale Douglass, Raymond Floyd, Jack Fleck, Gary Player and Palmer.
From the '75 Ryder Cup: Floyd, Palmer, Hale Irwin, Bob Murphy, Johnny Miller and J.C. Snead, along with Ireland's Eamonn Darcy, who played on the Great Britain and Ireland team.
Ireland's John O'Leary was stuck with the tag of "bad boy" on European golf. His "sin": He wore his hair in a large Afro and sometimes wore golf slacks with different colored legs. Today, hardly anyone looks up when England's walking kaleidoscope man, Ian Poulter, goes by.
Palmer is from Latrobe, just eight miles away. He helped create Laurel Valley, best described as an Augusta National of the north, when founders called on him for help, and he is a member and has played the course frequently. He is the only guy in the field to have played in three previous premier events -- the '65 PGA, '75 Ryder Cup, '89 U.S. Senior Open.
Greg Norman, who underwent back surgery late in March, scratched from his intended senior golf debut in the Senior PGA on the advice of his surgeon and his personal trainer.
"It's unfortunate," Norman said. "I have maintained a very solid relationship with the PGA of America through the years, and I thought it was most appropriate that one of its major championships would be my first senior event."
Norman had entered the Senior PGA, thinking he would be sufficiently recovered in time to play. Said Norman: "It's just that I don't feel like I'm ready to compete at the major championship level yet."
The Senior PGA field has one of the richest mixes of competitors ever: 156 players, 32 of them representing 10 countries. led by Japan, with eight, then Australia, five; England and Ireland, four each.
The field includes 21 major champions who own a combined 55 majors. The leader is Gary Player, with the rare career Grand Slam -- the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship. Close behind are three-timers Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson, who both missed winning the PGA, and Ray Floyd, who missed the British Open.
TV coverage of the Senior PGA -- via ESPN International, TSN, BSkyB, TBS Sports, Sky Network, Prime NZ, NBC and ESPN -- will be beamed to 73 countries and/or territories. Demonstrating the globalization of golf: The championship will go to such seemingly unlikely destinations as Algeria, Belize, Somalia, Sudan and Suriname.
Storms hitting Laurel Valley and the western foothills of the Alleghenies have turned the course from a tough 7,107 yards to an even tougher test. Wet ground and snarled rough are not friendly to golfers, but the softened greens could take some of the sheer drudgery out of the game for guys who can reach them in regulation.
The par-3s should be instructive: From the shortest hole, the 158-yard 14th, fronted by water and remindful of Augusta National's 12th, to the longest, the 221-yard, heavily bunkered eighth. The 605-yard 11th, with the sharp dogleg left entrance, figures to be a grudging par-5.
The most entertaining hole on the course, however, will be the par-5 18th, a sharp dogleg right over a pond, which invites the bold to ignore the water and cut over a stand of evergreens, but also beckons the prudent to lay up short of the water and trust a short iron to set up a birdie. The fans will crowd the amphitheater hillside to watch the fun.
The chase will be well worth it, though. The purse is $2 million, and first place is worth $360,000.
The course record is an 8-under 64, shared by Orville Moody and Scott Hoch. Moody got his in winning the 1989 U. S. Senior Open, and Hoch his -- shooting 64-64 -- in the 1996 Family House Invitational, then one of the biggest charity events in the country.
The Senior PGA is one of six major championships with a field of 156. The others: the PGA Championship, U.S. Open, British Open, U.S. Senior Open and U.S. Women's Open.