Posted by Steve Keating
November 3 (Reuters) – They have been playing golf at the Magic Kingdom since they opened the doors to Walt Disney World half a century ago.
Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and Karrie Webb head a list of champions who have won PGA and LPGA tour events at the Orlando area resort and receive congratulations and winners’ checks from Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck.
It’s been nearly a decade since the PGA last stopped at “The Most Magical Place on Earth,” but the tour said they’d happily consider returning, given the right conditions. “We enjoyed an incredibly successful partnership with Walt Disney World Resort from 1971 to 2012,” the PGA Tour told Reuters in an email.
“For a potential new event, if the necessary ingredients are in place – title sponsor, available date in the tour schedule that makes sense, player support, community support, non-profit partner, successful long-term perspective – would be considered.”
More recently, Disney World Golf’s attention has shifted away from providing a stage for professionals to the general public with its three championship layouts playing approximately 200,000 rounds annually.
Four decades of coronation from champions like Woods, Nicklaus and Payne Stewart have left a legacy that Disney World Golf continues to benefit from as casual golfers ride, chip and putt on the layouts that hosted the game’s greats.
But Nicklaus, Woods and Stewart are yesterday’s heroes and at some point paying customers will try to compete on tracks where Bryson DeChambeau and Jon Rahm have won.
“We honor our history and always try to build on it,” Bruce Gerlander, general manager of Walt Disney World Golf, told Reuters.
“We certainly have the expertise and facilities to host world-class events on iconic courses when the opportunity arises for everyone involved.”
Disney was removed from the PGA Tour schedule for the 2013-14 wrap-around season after Children’s Miracle Network refused to renew its sponsorship and no others were found.
The story goes on
But Disney has a deeper connection to golf than some of the current venues hosting PGA and LPGA events.
Long before the Florida amusement park opened in 1971, golf was the sport of choice for Disney characters.
Donald Duck and his nephew caddies Huey, Dewey and Louie appeared in a golf cartoon in 1938, as did Mickey Mouse and Pluto in the 1941 “Canine Caddy”. The 1944 classic “How to Play Golf” showed Goofy.
However, in 1971 golf got right in the Magic Kingdom when Nicklaus won the first of three consecutive Disney Classics.
“Disney made a huge contribution to the game,” said Nicklaus. “They have played golf everywhere they have been.”
Disney then became an integral part of the PGA Tour, with 20-year-old Woods winning his second career title at Walt Disney World in 1996 and winning again in 1999.
Disney World’s partnership with the PGA Tour ended in 2012 when Charlie Beljan took his only PGA Tour win.
Donald beat Justin Leonard with two punches to complete a historic double and became the first player to win both PGA and European Tours money lists that same year.
“I remember Webb Simpson fighting for the money he’d played the week before that was a few hundred thousand dollars ahead of me, so I made my hand play,” Donald told Reuters.
“We actually played all four rounds together and kept an eye on each round and we knew the money was at stake and possibly Player of the Year and many other things that come with it.
“And Donald Duck was there, handing the trophy, kind of funny Luke Donald and Donald Duck.” (Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, Editing by Ed Osmond)