Many of America's top senior professionals outside the Champions Tour will be in the Sandhills in late October for the fifth annual National Patriot Senior Invitational.
National Golf Club is once again host for this prestigious event, which takes place Oct. 21 through 23. Past participants include Ken Green, Jim Booros, Lon Hinkle, Pat McGowan, Bobby Stroble and Don Reece.
Tom Parsons, National's director of golf, has announced this year's field will be strictly invitational and limited to 32 professionals. Invitations have been distributed, and Parsons expects another strong field marked by former PGA Tour winners, Champions Tour winners and Ryder Cup participants.
"Our purse is pretty high in relation to senior events outside the Champions Tour, so we're able to attract some of the top names who don't have status on the Champions Tour," Parsons said. "The golf course helps, too, because everybody loves the layout here at National. All the guys feel when they tee it up it's a true test of golf."
Last year's tournament was a special treat as five-time PGA Tour winner Ken Green emerged victorious. Green enjoyed the experience so much that he stayed around an extra day.
"He hung out with the members and the next day went out and played with the members," Parsons said.
Green captured last year's National Patriot Senior Invitational in style with back-to-back 69s in the final two rounds of the 54-hole event. That left him at three-under 213, the only player in the field to break par. Interestingly, the runner-up at 217 was South Africa's Bertus Smit, who won the inaugural event in 2002.
The only other champion in tournament history is Don Reece. Reece won the invitational in October of 2003, then made it through Champions Tour qualifying a few weeks later. Reece also won in 2004.
As in past years, the Patriot includes a pro-am to raise funds for two military-related charities. However, the duration of the event has been shortened this year. Instead of spreading the competition over the course of a week, everything will be concentrated into a three-day stretch, with practice rounds available beforehand.
This fall, the 36-hole pro-am portion of the tournament will run concurrently with the professional competition. The 32 pros will play the first two rounds with two amateur partners. Each pro will post an individual score, while teaming with his partners in the pro-am portion of the event.
The final round Oct. 23 will be strictly for the professionals vying for the $7,500 first-place prize.
"We're continually trying to improve the event," Parsons said. "We've decided to tweak the format to make it better for the participants so that they don't have to make a week's commitment. That will draw the better players."
One of the key partners in the tournament is the Sunbelt Senior Professional Tour. The National Patriot Senior Invitational serves as the final event on the Sunbelt Tour schedule, and is the crown jewel for its players.
"A lot of the guys on the Sunbelt Senior Tour try to climb up the money list to get an invitation to this tournament," Parsons said. "This event has a higher level of service and amenities. We do our best to make it feel like a Tour atmosphere."
This year's event is extra special as the Myrtle Beach-based tour is celebrating its 10th anniversary and will see its all-time leading money winner, Rocky Rockett of Gastonia, on the Big Break VI television show this fall on The Golf Channel.
Golf fans are encouraged to come out and watch the National Patriot Senior Invitational. There's no charge for admission and Parsons says it is a great opportunity to get close to the action at a professional tournament.
"You'll see some guys who are going to be playing the Champions Tour, and guys who have played on the Champions Tour, played on the PGA Tour, won on the PGA Tour, and even some who've played in Ryder Cups.
"You can follow great golfers without the hassle of huge crowds."
For more information on the National Patriot Senior Invitational, call National Golf Club at (910) 295-5340.
Craig Distl is a golf publicist and freelance writer based in Charlotte.
More like this story