By Jeff Roper/The Mississippi Press
SAUCIER — This week’s Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic has made quite a name for itself without one tee shot being struck.
The event, one of three new tournaments on the Champions Tour this season, has drawn a strong field at the Tom Fazio-designed Fallen Oak in Saucier.
The 54-hole tournament begins Friday and ends Sunday.
Pro stars Hale Irwin, Nick Price, Paul Azinger, Bernhard Langer, Jerry Pate, Fred Funk, Ben Crenshaw, Tom Kite, Peter Jacobsen, Hal Sutton, Bob Tway, Craig Stadler and Mark O’Meara are among those in the field who will challenge the 7,000-yard-plus Fallen Oak layout, which has received many honors since it opened in November 2006.
“We’re very blessed with this field (of players),” tournament director Steve Nieman said. “We have one of the strongest non-major fields on the Champions Tour this year, and that’s Tour officials saying that.
“People will find that the Champions Tour is a younger tour than it was even five years ago. Many of the golfers out here right now are ones they will readily recognize and have enjoyed watching.”
While most tournaments have one title sponsor and perhaps a presenting sponsor, numerous businesses joined forces to help give birth to the Classic. And in a show of further support, Nieman said more than 1,000 people have signed up as volunteers to help run the event.
“Everything is in place now,” Nieman said. “(This) week, we’ve got to prove it. And I can tell you this, I believe we will. … This community and its people have rallied around this tournament. This event is the culmination of telling the story of this community and the Gulf Coast and all that we have to offer here.”
It’s also being staged to show how the area has bounced back since the devastation of Hurricane Katrina nearly five years ago.
Nieman said Fallen Oak can be favorably compared to any course on the Champions Tour.
“I think it’s going to be a great test of golf,” he said. “There are no two par-3s similar in any respect and there’s a great balance to the course design.
“No two holes are alike. And the finishing holes — I’d say 16, 17 and 18 — are challenging. Number 18 is a great finishing hole and there’s going to be some drama there. You don’t want to have just a one-shot lead heading into those final three holes.”