Rude: The end of Disney’s magical Tour ride

Charlie Beljan and Mickey Mouse on the 18th green of Magnolia Course after he won the Children's Miracle Network Hospitals Classic.

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Editor's note: This column appeared in the Nov. 16, 2012 edition of Golfweek magazine, just after Charlie Beljan's improbable victory. The tournament's future had yet to be decided at the time of publication. On Monday morning, the PGA Tour did announce the 2013 portion of the 2013-14 schedule, without Disney for the first time since the Orlando-area resort's inaugural Tour event in 1971. Read that story here.

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- This one reads like Disney fiction. Hyperventilating PGA Tour rookie Charlie Beljan, 139th in earnings, somehow shoots a second-round 64 while fighting panic attacks, arm numbness and high blood pressure. He sleeps only 90 minutes overnight after being rushed to a hospital by ambulance. He doubts he can continue playing but hangs on to his lead and wins the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic by two strokes.

That is the latest compelling story in the rich, 42-year history of Tour events at Disney World. And, significantly, it’s highly likely this was the last chapter. Disney doesn’t have a title sponsor or one on the horizon, and the Tour plans to announce its 2013 fall schedule soon after Thanksgiving.

Though tournament chairman Kevin Weickel declined comment, Policy Board member Davis Love III said the Tour told him recently there’s a 10 percent chance Disney will be part of the 2013-14 season. On the first tee of the final round last week, Love told the starter, “Let’s hope there’s a children’s miracle for this tournament.”

Tour operations chief Andy Pazder said his organization will “move quickly to decide on the future of the event.”

It doesn’t look good, according to other Tour insiders.

One said the event has less than a 20 percent chance of returning, and Disney hasn’t made much of an effort to find a new sponsor.

“It’s sad,” said Love, the 2008 champion.

It would represent the reality of changing times. It’s safe to say golf hasn’t been as important to the Magic Kingdom the past decade as it was the first 10 years, such as when Jack Nicklaus won the first three Disney events in 1971-73 after the place opened. Back then, golf was more of a marketing vehicle to drive visitors.

Now, many more things – such as a sports complex and additional theme parks and hotels – are used to attract Disney guests. Disney seems less of a golf destination than years ago; in that sense, a tournament becomes less important.

“There doesn’t appear to be a burning desire for them to have it return,” one person close to the situation said.

Most things have expiring shelf lives. This would be no different, save perhaps with regard to history and emotion.

Eight Hall of Famers – Nicklaus, Hubert Green, Ben Crenshaw, Payne Stewart, Larry Nelson, Lanny Wadkins, Ray Floyd and Vijay Singh – have won here. Those men, plus future inductees Tiger Woods and Love, have combined to collect 14 trophies. Five consecutive Disney titles, in 1983-87, were won by players en route to the golf shrine.

“All that,” said longtime Tour rules official Jon Brendle, “is very cool.”

Hal Sutton won his first Tour title here, in 1982. David Duval came through 15 years later. Luke Donald would crown a victory and Player of the Year season last fall with a string of six late birdies.

“No other stop on the PGA Tour has the character, or characters, of the (Disney) Classic,” a tournament brochure boasted. Signs on each tee at the Magnolia and Palm courses describe yesteryear episodes.

Wadkins, fresh out of Q-School, tied Arnold Palmer for third, behind Nicklaus and Deane Beman, and won $8,850 in that inaugural event. “It got me through the winter because I was broke,” he said.

Wadkins says he always loved playing Disney because of great treatment and family entertainment options.

Boo Weekley is among those who know about the latter.

“You play at 7 a.m. and walk 8-9 miles and it’s hot,” he said. “Then the kids run up to you on 18 and ask how you played. Then you gotta go see Mickey, and the next thing you know you’re walking another 8-9 miles. It’s rough.”

Perhaps no one would be sadder to see the event go than Brendle. He has worked it for 36 years – 13 as a Disney golf professional and 23 as rules official.

“I get the feeling this was the last,” Brendle said. “At least when (the Buick Open) closed out, you could say goodbye. Here, it seems we’re walking away. It’s sad to a lot of people.”

Brendle recalls celebrating with good friend Stewart afterward in 1983. He remembers lights being installed on No. 18 so players could putt out in 1993, when Jeff Maggert won. He’ll never forget Woods winning in 1996, the first of his two Disney titles. Woods tied with Taylor Smith, but Smith was disqualified after the final round because of a nonconforming putter grip.

“I had to go out on 18 and announce Tiger won, and I got booed,” Brendle said. “The people were mad because they wanted a playoff.”

The only loud sound next year likely will be one of silence. Or a rider’s scream on Space Mountain.

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