Continuing with my theme from last week on Fastpass to History, I’m going to look at another sporting event that Walt Disney World used to host….the Walt Disney World Golf Classic. This event ran for 40-plus years from the park’s opening in 1971 to 2012. In fact, one could argue that the first “non-park related event” that Walt Disney World hosted was the 1971 Walt Disney World Invitational held December 2nd through December 5th, 1971. This event was won by Jack Nicklaus, who then went on to win the 1972 and 1973 invitationals as well.
After the 1973 event, the Walt Disney World Golf Resort opened which we, now, know better as The Shades of Green Resort. Also after the 1973 event, the event format switched to a team event and was dubbed the Walt Disney World National Team Championship. It returned to a solo event starting in 1982 through the final event in 2012. Some of golf greats won during this time span including Ray Floyd, Mark O’Meara, Davis Love III, and Tiger Woods.
However, something else was happening during this 30-year span between 1982 and 2012. The better golfers were coming less and less often. Disney’s logic for hosting the event was a lot of professional golfer live in Florida especially in the Orlando area. Disney believed having an event in “their backyard” so to speak would entice the golfers to come and play in the event.
These golfers did come….at first. The decline became most evident in the second half of the 90’s and into the 21st century. Golf, at the professional level, was becoming more and more an international game. As a result, top-flight golfers were going overseas to play in events for more money.
As a result, attendance at the event fell as the event fell in the pecking order. It rapidly turned into an event for golfers who needed to earn enough money to keep their PGA Tour card for the following season. Attendance declined further. I remember one year tickets to the event were included in the price of an annual pass. Disney no longer wanted to lose money on an event that no one wanted to attend.
Another thing which I think hampered attendance was there was more to do around Walt Disney World and the greater Orlando area. Attending a golf event is a big time drain if someone is down there on vacation. In the 70’s and 80’s, there was only Walt Disney World and EPCOT as entertainment alternatives to the golf event. Moving into the 90’s and 2000’s, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom came on to the scene as did Orlando’s other theme park complex. A day or two at a golf tournament just didn’t have the appeal that it used to. It was, most likely, one of the first things cut from a family’s vacation plans.
That’s my Fastpass to History for this week. I hope you enjoyed this look into sporting side of Disney. Thanks for reading!