College golf: Prestige at PGA West returns as alumni populate Tour’s American Express event

LA QUINTA, Calif. — Mark Weissman couldn’t help but notice the number of professional golfers in this year’s The American Express PGA Tour event who made their first impression in the Coachella Valley in the college tournament Weissman founded 23 years ago.

There was Jon Rahm, now a two-time American Express winner, who played in the Prestige at PGA West college tournament for Arizona State. Xander Schauffele, third in this year’s American Express, played for San Diego State. Sahith Theegala was a star for Pepperdine, Sam Burns played at LSU and Tom Hoge played at TCU, among others who were part of The American Express this year.

That’s what has Weissman so excited about the Prestige as he prepares for the tournament Feb. 20-23.

“It’s great to see who will be following the other players like Rahm and Schauffele to the PGA Tour,” said Weissman, the founder of the tournament that is hosted annually by UC Davis.

With a field of 24 teams from across the United States, the Prestige will again be played at the Greg Norman course at PGA West in La Quinta, with teams playing three 18-hole rounds. A separate individual tournament will again be played, this year at the Golf Club at Terra Lago in Indio.

With 24 teams of five players each set for the event, Weissman understands some concern about how everyone will finish each day at PGA West, where the Santa Rosa Mountains are close enough to cause shorter winter days when the sun drops behind the mountain ridges. But the number should work fine, he said.

“The coaches felt that because of the number of teams that want to come out here and generally with the great weather in February when it is cold in most other areas of the country still, plus going into the crucial part of the NCAA season, the spring season, that it was important to kind of open (the field) up to more teams,” Weissman said. “We did this last year and felt that it worked well to continue it this year.”

Early season competition

The field will be led by tournament host UC Davis and head coach Cy Williams and Stanford with head coach Conrad Ray. Stanford for years was a co-host of the event and still has input into the tournament. Some teams have been fixtures in the tournament like Pepperdine, TCU, LSU, Northwestern and Texas Tech. While those teams return, other teams will be coming to the desert for the first time.

“We have a pretty significant list of teams that would like to come out, and it is always a hard decision for our host universities to make that decision, and I have some input,” Weissman said. “But for the first time Nebraska and Creighton are coming. Charlotte is coming back, they haven’t been here for a long time. Louisville will be here for the first time.”

In the past teams have brought six or seven players to the Prestige, with the extra players competing for the individual title. That turned into a separate individual event played at Coral Mountain Golf Club in La Quinta. With that course currently closed, the individual event of about 60 players is moving to the Golf Club at Terra Lago.

“It’s been a really good opportunity,” Weissman said. “They are very pleased to have this event, and it seems like the teams are real pleased to be playing on that course which was obviously a Skins Game course. They have done some renovations there.”

One feature returning to the Prestige after a COVID-19 suspension is the junior clinic, to be held Feb. 19. All juniors are invited to attend the event for free, with coaches from the college teams providing lessons.

“We are enthusiastically looking forward to having the junior clinic back for the first time since 2020,” Weissman said. “With the support of the Southern California Golf Association junior program and the First Tee Foundation and other organizations, kids and families from throughout Southern California whether they have had any golf instruction or not will be here. It is unique in that it is the only event we know when most of the coaches that participate in the Prestige are giving instruction to kids from 4 to high school.”

With college golf gaining popularity in the country and on television and with Golf Channel showing more tournaments across the country, Weissman believes the time is coming when the Prestige will be on television. The tournament was live streamed once, but getting to television is a distinct goal, he said.

“We have solid interest for national TV,” he said. “We’re hoping to reach that milestone in the very near future.”