CASTLE ROCK, Colo. (CBS4) – Solitude at Castle Pines never looked or sounded so good. But it wasn’t too long ago that the tranquil Colorado fairways lined with their namesake were home to one of the most exciting tournaments on the PGA Tour.
The course and tournament were the dream of Colorado businessman Jack Vickers.
“I think his hope was to introduce something new at the time,” said Castle Pines Golf Club Vice President Keith Schneider. “And I think he did that.”
In 1986 The International was born and it was an instant success.
Early winners like Greg Norman, Davis Love III and Phil Mickelson gave the tournament credibility by taking advantage of the unique scoring system that awarded points for birdies and rewarded aggressive play.
“If you played aggressively and pulled it off you got rewarded big time,” said 2002 International Champion Rich Beem. “It’s a golf course where it’s feast or famine.”
The International also took hospitality to a different level. The players loved the way they were treated and soon the tournament became a staple on the tour.
“You just felt like anything you wanted, wished or asked for was there and you kind of felt embarrassed asking for things that were a little strange but listen they bent over backwards for you, it was great,” added Beem.
“If felt like home,” said 2000 International champion Ernie Els. “I actually looked at buying a house along the 10th fairway for a little while.”
Els finally won his “home” game in 2000. But the Big Easy’s victory wasn’t the tournament’s crowning moment. That came 2 years later. 1994 champion Steve Lowery made a memorable run at leader Rich Beem and a second International title. Not only did Lowery eagle the 14th hole, he made double-eagle on the 17th.
“I’ve had 20 hole-in-one’s in my career which is quit a lot because I’ve always hit iron at the pin and played aggressive, but that’s the best stretch of golf in my career,” said Lowery.
“You’re standing on the 18th tee with a 9 point lead and that’s the best scenario you could possibly have,” said Beem. “But by the time I hit my second shot I only have a 1-point lead. You can’t imagine a more sinking feeling than that.”
Lowery’s furious comeback stalled on the final green when his putt to win or lose just missed.
“To this day and I’ve seen some of the video, I have no idea how that ball stayed out but thankfully it did,” Beem said.
“We saw each other in the airport that night and he (Beem) told me, I might have won but everybody will remember you,” said Lowery.
While the Lowery-Beem duel was the best International, the most popular tournaments where when Tiger Woods played. Tiger mania happened in 1998 and 99.
His best finish was 4th when he recorded a hole-in-one on the 7th hole before the TV cameras were rolling.
“Myself, I personally thought Tiger was great, but I thought what’s the big deal?” said Schneider. “He makes the ace on #7 then he goes to #13 and makes a 2 and this place was buzzing and I said to myself ‘Now I get it.'”
1999 was Tiger’s last appearance at The International. His absence affected ratings and ultimately The International’s status as one of the tour’s top events.
“There’s not another tournament but maybe one or two, that’s on our level,” Jack Vickers told CBS4 back in 2007. “I am not going to be the proud proprietor of the 2nd best golf tournament.”
And with that, a proud Jack Vickers made the unpopular decision to end the tournament.
“Everybody was really sad and we were sad for Mr. Vickers,” Schneider remembers. “He put his heart and soul into that tournament.”
“When I got word about that, I was hot,” recalls Beem. “And I made my voice very well-known.”
“They were absolutely just devastated that the tournament had be canceled,” said Els. “I even called then-Commissioner (Tim) Finchem to see what I could do to save it.”
Unfortunately there was no saving the International.
So now what? Will Castle Pines ever get back in the game of professional golf? There are rumors that the club is line to host a Fed Ex Cup playoff event and maybe even a Ryder Cup.
“Let me answer it this way, ‘Yes we’ve been in conversations,'” Schneider admitted. “I think there’s interest on our part and I think there is interest on their part. I’m not going to sit here and lie about it and say we haven’t talked to them — we have.”