THE INAUGURAL GALLERI CLASSIC

Wayne McCollum is a contributing writer to Desert Golf & Tennis.

David Toms became the first champion of The Galleri Classic with a 16 under par performance besting the 78 player field on the PGA Champions Tour newest stop.  Toms fired a final-round seven under par, 65 giving him a wire-to-wire victory.  Steven Alker, the reigning PGA Tour Champions player of the year, fired a final round 67 to move into second place at 12-under. The wire-to-wire victory which earned the 53- year old Toms a $330,000 check from the $2.2 purse was Toms second PGA Tour Champions win in his last three starts and fourth overall. Toms was one of 20 major tournament winners in the 78 player field.  He stood on the final green with the Galleri Classic trophy in hand, thanked the fans and volunteers, but refused to continue the long tradition of jumping into Poppie’s Pond, set by LPGA champions, saying “he did not like the color of the water.”

It has been said that when one door closes, another one opens. And that was just the case for the Inaugural Galleri Classic golf tournament held at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California March 20-26th.  After fifty-one years of celebrating the best players in the women’s game saying goodbye last April the PGA Tour Champions picked up where the LPGA left off with a fresh event in the California desert. It was a natural flow into the schedule for the senior men professionals having just completed their event in Newport Beach.

March 2023 marks the first PGA Tour Champions event in the Coachella Valley since 1993.  Indian Wells Golf Club hosted the Gulfstream Aerospace Invitational, which was held in the Coachella Valley from 1983 to 1993.

This years field of 78 pros teed it up in the event claiming 20 major tournament champions and a combined 292 PGA Tour Champions titles. The tournament was played over the Dinah Shore Tournament Course that has been one of the deserts premier layouts for since opening in 1971.  Many of the players  remarked that it was one of the best conditioned courses that they play though out the year.

GRAIL, the host sponsor has committed to a five-year agreement to stay in the valley . Galleri is the name of the early detection screening test they have created where a simple blood sample can reveal warning signs of up to 50 different types of cancer. Fans attending the event were allowed to receive the free test on the grounds any day of the tournament. Bio-tech company Grail jumped into its first sports sponsorship  believing it had an excellent opportunity through golf  and the desert population to reach its most sought after demographic – those 50 and older.

Tournament director Michelle DeLancy, says “ it is a five-year commitment to start for the Galleri Classic and I think the opportunity for a major tournament is possible. A major has been here and I know it can play well here.” We will do a great job and the players will feel like they are playing in a major” There are a lot of golf fans here in the desert that will come out and support such a move by the PGA Champions Tour.

Longtime Tour professional, John Cook, who lived at Mission Hills and played the tournament course hundreds of times before turning pro said “this is a major championship course and always has been, the ladies had a great run here for 51-years with the Dinah Shore and the ANA. It is classic and old-school,” Cook chose this event to end his playing career and concentrate on his Golf Channel reporting job.

Over 500 tournament volunteers turned out in support of the Inaugural event to make sure it was a success.  Great weather and snowcapped mountain views made it a most enjoyable place to watch some great golf with everybody already looking forward to next year’s event. Toms said “this was a true test of golf on a classic course and I will be back next year to defend. The 2024 Galleri Classic will be played March 26- 31st and who knows, maybe as a major on the PGA Champions Tour.