As this is written, the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii is being played for the 71st time, and it all started in Las Vegas at the old Desert Inn way back in 1953. But in 1967 and 1968, the prestigious event that is reserved only for champions was played at the Stardust Country Club, which is now Las Vegas National Golf Club. In 1967, Arnold Palmer established a course record 64 during the final round, only to still lose by one shot to Frank Beard. Here’s a look back. –By Brian Hurlburt, founder, www.lasvegasgolfinsider.com – Photo is file from Las Vegas News Bureau and from 1965 Palmer victory.
A legend in Las Vegas golf, the late Don Welch, was an eyewitness to Palmer’s heroics and was impressed with how Beard withstood the rally, which was taking place well before he teed off.
This is an excerpt from City of Champions: the History of Professional Golf in Las Vegas written by myself and Jack Sheehan:
Don Welch, former head pro at the Dunes C.C., had an interesting memory of the final round of the 1967 T of C played at Stardust C.C. Frank Beard held a 6-stroke lead on the field and 8-over Arnold Palmer after fifty-four holes. But as Beard was hitting practice shots to loosen up before Sunday’s round, Palmer was devouring the Stardust’s front nine.
Arnie eagled the first hole, parred the second, and made birdies on 3 and 4. Cheers kept erupting from various points on the front nine each time “the General” would post another birdie.
By the time Beard reached the first tee, Palmer was 6-under par through eight holes and Frank’s once comfortable lead had been trimmed to two strokes. Welch, who was then head pro in charge of both the Desert Inn and Stardust courses, remembered Beard just shaking his head each time the roars went up. He was helpless against Arnie’s flurry … until he teed off.
Palmer eventually shot the course record of 64 with, believe it or not, a 4-putt on the 15th hole! To Beard’s credit, he endured by shooting a last round 71. An eight-foot birdie putt on the final hole, which did a 360-degree circle of the hole and fell in, nipped Arnie by a shot, and gave Beard the $20,000 first prize.
While it was a bummer of a loss for Palmer, all wasn’t that bad. A victory in 1967 would have been his third TOC title in a row.
In 1968, the historic Las Vegas National course that is still in full swing in 2023, played host to the TOC for the final time in Las Vegas and prior to it moving to La Costa, Calif. the following year. Don January earned a one-shot victory over Julius Boros in 1968.
Over the years, Las Vegas National hosted the LPGA Championship from 1961-66, the Tournament of Champions from 1967-68 and dozens of years of the Sahara Invitational. The course also hosted the Las Vegas Invitational in 1996 when Tiger Woods earned his initial PGA Tour victory.