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BMW Championship coming to Caves Valley Golf Club in 2021, Baltimore area’s first PGA Tour event in nearly 60 years

Professional golfer Billy Mayfair tees off at the 10th hole during the 2017 Senior Players Pro Am at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills.
Professional golfer Billy Mayfair tees off at the 10th hole during the 2017 Senior Players Pro Am at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun)

For the first time in nearly 60 years, the PGA Tour is making a stop in the Baltimore area.

Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills will host next year’s BMW Championship, the second of three FedEx Cup playoff events, marking the first PGA Tour event in the area since the Eastern Open Invitational at Mount Pleasant Municipal Golf Club in 1962.

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Steve Fader, chairman of the exclusive Caves Valley Golf Club, said in a phone interview Wednesday that he was “off the charts” excited.

“Great honor to be selected as host course given the number of courses around the country that would love to host the championship, so very big deal for Caves Valley," Fader said, “But equally important, if not more important, is the economic impact of hosting a championship like this in Baltimore, for Baltimore County, Baltimore City and the state of Maryland.”

Caves Valley, which opened off Park Heights Avenue in Baltimore County in 1991, has been building toward hosting a major men’s golf tournament for years. The rolling course hosted its first major amateur event, the Mid-Amateur, in 1995. It has since seen the men’s and women’s NCAA championships, USGA events, the 2002 U.S. Senior Open, the 2007 Palmer Cup, the LPGA’s 2014 International Crown and the Constellation Senior Players Championship in 2017.

The BMW Championship has been held in the Chicago area every other year since 2011, with stays in Indiana, Colorado and Pennsylvania. The 2020 BMW Championship will be played at the Olympia Fields Country Club in Illinois before coming to Maryland on Aug. 17-22, 2021.

The selection of Caves Valley won’t be made official until Thursday, when it’s announced by the tournament organizer, the Western Golf Association. The Illinois-based association conducts the BMW Championship as a fundraiser for its Evans Scholars Foundation, which provides college scholarships to golf caddies.

The tournament features a field of 70 of the top golfers on tour, whittling that group down to 30 for the final stage of the FedEx Cup playoffs. The 2019 BMW Championship was played at Medinah Country Club outside of Chicago, drawing more than 130,000 spectators from 44 states and three countries.

Will Anderson, Baltimore County’s director of economic and workforce development, called the selection of Caves Valley as host site “a home run.”

“There is a place to be shown off here,” Anderson said. “Baltimore County and greater Baltimore being seen on this stage for what it really is, as a super high-quality area, PGA understands that, and they’re not coming in lightly and taking a chance on a place that they don’t think will be highly successful for their sponsors, their TV partners.

"It says this is a place to have a marquee event.”

Anderson said the county is preparing already for the event 18 months in advance, piecing together tourism packages that include local breweries and the Chesapeake Bay.

“If we’re expecting at least 150,000 people to come through for the whole event in August, most of those people are traveling in from out of the area,” he said. “Many of them who have been traveling with the BMW Championship series over the years, it’ll be their first time here. They’ll be coming and spending money on hotels, retail, restaurants."

Last year’s tournament in Illinois generated nearly $20 million in direct spending, $3 million in lodging, $4 million in food and beverage sales, $1.7 million in state taxes, and $400,000 in local taxes. It was broadcast nationally on a variety of networks, including the Golf Channel and NBC.

“I can’t undersell just how great this is for Baltimore,” Fader said. “Having four days of network television coverage of this event is really going to showcase Baltimore in a very favorable light."

Caves Valley is perhaps Baltimore’s most exclusive golf course, organized by business leaders who wanted a golf club without all the trappings of a country club with pools and tennis courts and kids running around. Its links have hosted U.S. presidents and its more than 500 members have included many of the region’s top business and sports figures, including Ravens owner and staffing company mogul Steve Bisciotti, Under Armour founder Kevin Plank, Orioles Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., and a long list of national figures such as basketball’s Michael Jordan, former New York City mayor and Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, and journalist and author Thomas Friedman.

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Two years ago, initiation fees were $100,000 with annual dues of $20,000 for local members. Those living farther away pay less.

What members get is ready access to an exquisitely maintained private course designed by noted golf architect Tom Fazio. It ranks 152nd on Golf Digest’s list of the best courses nationally.

"First and foremost, a terrific test of golf for the best players in the world,” Fader said when asked what Caves Valley offers as a course. “Two, the ability through its facilities and properties to deliver an exceptional fan experience, which is very important to all of the sponsors.

“Our property lays out very nicely when you’re talking about having 35-to-45,000 people a day on the golf course to watch these terrific golfers. So the facilities themselves have to set up to be able to host that number of people and to be able to get there efficiently and to have viewing points from various different places so fans can actually see golf. Caves Valley, because of the layout of the course, presents wonderful viewing sightlines for fans."

Fourth-ranked PGA Tour golfer Justin Thomas won the 2019 BMW Championship. Tiger Woods won the inaugural event in 2007 and again in 2009, with current PGA Tour No. 1 Rory McIlroy finishing first in 2012.

“This event is a premier event on the PGA Tour schedule,” Fader said. “Every PGA Tour player, in addition to wanting to win a major, would like to win the FedEx (Cup) championship, so having a chance to host the event that will decide which 30 will go and play for that championship is terrific.”

Caves Valley had been mentioned as a possibility to host future BMW Championships in recent years, with Fader calling the process of securing the 2021 event “arduous at times.” The PGA, Western Golf Association and BMW all had to sign off on Caves Valley hosting, Fader said. The location of the 2022 tournament, the last BMW is under contract to be title sponsor of, is not yet determined.

Fader’s hope is that those same parties, as well as the thousands of fans who attend, are satisfied enough that Baltimore doesn’t face another decades-long wait for its next PGA Tour event.

The PGA Tour first came to Baltimore in 1950. First called the Eastern Open Invitational, the event was played for nine years at Mount Pleasant and the next three at Pine Ridge in Lutherville before finishing its 13-year run at its original home. The tournament was best known for being Arnold Palmer’s first tour win in 1956 after he famously hit his opening tee shot out of bounds.

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“It’s my belief that once the tour, BMW, the Western Golf Association and, importantly, the fans — and we have some very educated golf fans in the greater Baltimore metro area — that they will be looking to come back back to Baltimore much sooner than later,” Fader said. “I assure you it won’t be another 60 years."

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