This week’s WGC Bridgestone Invitational ends a 65-year run by Firestone Country Club on the PGA Tour docket, an affiliation spread across four different tournaments and including two major championships.
The club, opened in 1929 as a corporate perk from Harvey Firestone to employees of his tire company, lured its first tour stop with the 1954 debut of the Rubber City Open. Tommy Bolt won in a five-stroke romp, shooting 23-under-par 265.
The Rubber City Open lasted six years, cast aside when the PGA Championship arrived in 1960 and crowned Jay Hebert the winner. The following year saw the creation of the American Golf Classic, where Hebert won again.
In 1962, Firestone also became host of the new World Series of Golf, which began as an exhibition for the year’s major winners. The American Golf Classic and World Series of Golf played on consecutive weekends for 15 years, except when the PGA Championship returned in both 1966 and ’75.
The American Golf Classic closed shop after the 1976 event, as the World Series took on a larger invitational field. The World Series continued through 1998, when the event became part of the new World Golf Championships series. Firestone is the last original site from the WGC’s launch in 1999.
One of the players that bridged the transition from World Series to WGC was eight-time tournament winner Tiger Woods.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Woods called Firestone one of his “favorite golf courses on the entire Tour,” and one of the few remaining stops on the PGA Tour schedule that still has a small-town vibe.
“Well, I’ve always been a fan of this golf course ever since I first played here in ’97. I’ve always enjoyed it. I remember playing here before it was even the World Golf Championships, the World Series of Golf. So it’s always been one of my favorite golf courses on the entire Tour and it’s unfortunate that it is leaving,” said Woods.
“The people have always come out and supported this event. This has been one of the very few tournaments that is kind of a small-town atmosphere. It’s a very simple, straightforward golf course, which we don’t see very often anymore. This is away from the stadium golf that we seem to play a lot now on Tour, and I’m just excited to be here and be able to play.
“But as far as the future of this event, I know it has to move and it has to go forward and off to Memphis, but it’s one of the reasons why I tried so hard to get in this event, because it does mean something special to me.”
When asked to name his favorite memory of Firestone, Woods said he couldn’t name just one, but recalled his 11-shot romp in 2000 as his best performance.
“You know, there isn’t just one. I mean, I’ve done it so many different ways. I think the best I’ve played was probably that year in 2000. I really played well that year and I shot 21-under, I believe it was,” said Woods.
“Yeah, I remember Hal [Sutton] and I just running to try to get it in to make sure we don’t have to come back here on Monday for one hole. I already had a significant lead at the time, and to be able to stuff it in the dark was something special.”
Starting next year, the WGC event relocates to Memphis as the WGC FedEx St. Jude Invitational. Firestone, meantime, will step in as the Senior Players Championship’s new home.