It’s that time of year when all the tradition of the Hoag Classic returns to town for another run

By Gary Sherwin

If you’ve driven down Coast Highway past the Newport Beach Country Club lately, you’ve probably seen the multitude of mobile trailers and tents in the parking lot as well as the banners popping up on the street and around Fashion Island.

It’s another positive sign that we are waking up from our prolonged COVID-19 nightmare. After being suspended for two years, the Hoag Classic is returning, featuring a stellar group of legendary golfers on March 2-6.

Maybe you haven’t heard of the Hoag Classic? Perhaps you know it better as the Toshiba Classic which had the sponsorship of the tournament for many years before Hoag reclaimed the naming rights in 2019. Since its original founding 47 years ago, the landmark event has undergone several transformations and different names but has always brought in some of the biggest names in the sport.

Even if you aren’t a golf fan, it is an important event for many reasons, including generating proceeds that go to support Hoag Hospital, that jewel of a healthcare facility that we are all thankful to have in our backyard. Over the years, the tournament has generated more than $20 million to Hoag and is one of the most philanthropic events on the PGA Champions Tour, which includes pro golfers over the age of 50.

Gary Sherwin

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Courtesy of Visit Newport Beach

Gary Sherwin

But what many people aren’t aware of is the event’s interesting backstory and the celebrity as well as the father of a current city councilman that made it all happen.

In 1974, Bing Crosby, internationally renowned singer, actor and future World Golf Hall of Fame member, (for younger generations, he’s the guy who sings “White Christmas” every year on your holiday playlist) was looking for a place to hold a satellite event for golf professionals who missed the cut at his famous Pebble Beach Pro-Am Tournament in Northern California. 

Marshall Duffield, father of current City Councilman Duffy Duffield, who was a friend of Crosby and was a member of the Hoag Hospital 552 Club (a fundraising arm for the hospital) as well as a Newport Beach Country Club member, enlisted his friend Charley Hester, another 552 Club member, to negotiate a deal for a tournament benefitting Hoag. Crosby put up $10,000 in prize money for the first tournament, and in 1975 the first Crosby Southern Pro-Am was held in Newport Beach.

Over the next 22 years, many future stars of the PGA TOUR visited the tournament – renamed the Newport Classic Pro-Am in 1987 – and then the Taco Bell Newport Classic from 1993-1997. In that two decade plus span, the total net proceeds raised for Hoag totaled more than $2,300,000.

In the Spring of 1997, the Senior PGA TOUR (now PGA TOUR Champions, no more senior stuff) approached Hoag to take over operations of the local tour event and that Fall, Hoag began its new venture as host and manager of the Toshiba Senior Classic.

Who knew? Well, probably many long-time volunteers and organizers did, but for most of us, that’s a history lesson.

For many non-golfers in town, the Hoag Classic slips into town and they aren’t aware of it aside from the street banners. That’s too bad because this is an event of significance that has a big impact beyond the money raised for the hospital.

Broadcast nationally on the Golf Channel, the event brings in people and money to the city including the golfers, their families and their caddies who stay and spend. A recent independent economic study said that the tournament generates more than $30 million annually to the community.

It also helps several other groups as well, including those who serve our country. Through the annual Military Appreciation Day, the tournament helps to raise money for local military organizations which in years past included the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation, Blue Angels Foundation, as well as others.

This year’s purse is an impressive $2 million, up $200,000 from the previous tournament. That means it attracts a well-known cadre of famous golfers including the last winner, Ernie Els in 2020.

Some people think the event is exclusive and not entirely open to the public. Not true! While many of the attendees are hosted by corporations that buy sky boxes and bring in clients and colleagues, that doesn’t mean the average person is excluded. Anyone can walk up and buy a day pass, so if you want to check it out for a few hours, you can soak up the atmosphere at the country club even if you aren’t a member. And as a bonus, if you are under 18, you get in free on Sunday during “Student Day.”

The event’s traditional kick off is at the Balboa Bay Resort with Breakfast with a Champion featuring a golf legend, which is always fun since you get some behind-the-scenes insight on the tour. I especially enjoy hearing about the mental gymnastics nearly all the players deal with every time they hit the course with onlookers staring at your every move. This year’s guest will be Jim Furyk, who has the lowest score in PGA history (that’s a 58). 

And if folks have the bucks to spare, there are two days of the Legends Pro-Am, where guests can play with the pros with all proceeds benefiting the event. Even if you are a regular on the course, you’ve got to imagine the stress of teeing off on the first hole knowing a seasoned golf legend is looking at you and perhaps silently judging your swing. That’s courage for a good cause.

Hoag is currently examining the event and exploring new ways to activate it beyond just the golfing community, which is a good thing. In fact, the hospital has said that beyond the money raised, the real benefit of this event is to raise the profile of Newport Beach and the services the hospital provides the community.

In many ways, the tournament is the perfect embodiment of the Newport Beach lifestyle. Beautiful venue, celebrity athletes, good food and drink and a chance to walk in the sunshine while supporting a good cause.

Even if you don’t hit the links, that’s reason alone to celebrate this event.

Gary Sherwin is President & CEO of Visit Newport Beach and Newport Beach & Company.