Principal Charity Classic: Preview, Betting Odds As Champions Tour Returns To Des Moines

Written By Danny Lawhon on June 3, 2021
Principal Charity Classic 2021 Preview

Professional golf is returning to Iowa this week. Let those sweet words sink in as the state’s largest city prepares for the resumption of the Principal Charity Classic in Des Moines as part of the PGA Tour Champions circuit.

In another sign of sports’ slow return to normalcy, 81 Champions Tour members will descend on the Wakonda Club, south of downtown,  and compete for a $1.85 million prize pool. The tournament that has produced more than $30 million for children’s charities since 2007.

Here’s a primer as the 50-and-over golf tour prepares for competition this week.

Principal Charity Classic: Facts and figures

  • Where: Wakonda Club, 3915 Fleur Drive, Des Moines, IA 50321
  • When: Friday-Sunday
  • TV: Golf Channel
  • Broadcast Times: 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Friday; 2-4 p.m. Saturday; 2:30-4:30 p.m. Sunday
  • Course Architect: William Langford, 1922 (renovated 2002)
  • Yardage: 6,851 yards, par 72
  • Defending Champion: Kevin Sutherland (17-under 199, won on second playoff hole)
  • Purse: $1,850,000
  • Winner’s Share: $277,500
  • Tickets: $20 per day; up to 10,000 daily attendance

The tournament — and fans — are back

Like almost everything else set for the spring and summer in 2020, the Principal Charity Classic was a victim of the coronavirus pandemic.

Originally scheduled for the week following Memorial Day and then bumped back to early September, last year’s event was scuttled with rising cases and uncertainty about COVID-19 making attendance an impossibility.

A year later, the story is different, as relaxed face mask guidelines and declining case numbers have allowed tournament staff to sell 10,000 daily tickets for competition rounds.

That means the discounted “birdie beers” tradition on Wakonda’s par-3 14th hole will likely make a return appearance, along with a new wrinkle: mobile sports betting.

Special betting markets for the Principal Charity Classic

The last time the Principal Charity Classic was contested was in June 2019, a mere two months before the launch of sports betting in Iowa.

So this spring’s tournament will be the first occasion in which bettors can root for their favorite Champions Tour golfers with some skin in the game.

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The 201-yard 14th mentioned above could also be the site of some interesting wagers for Iowa bettors who download the William Hill Sportsbook app.

The book, associated with Prairie Meadows Casino in nearby Altoona, has concocted eight special prop markets around the hole. Remember, there will be 81 players in the field.

  • Hole-in-One (tournament): No, -1800; Yes, +1000
  • Round 1 Birdies (over/under 11.5): Over, -120; Under, +100
  • Round 1 Pars (over/under 48.5): Over/under, -110
  • Round 1 Bogeys (over/under 17.5): Over/under, -110.

Note: William Hill has not specified whether a score worse than bogey would count toward this total.

Of course, if you’re looking for a more traditional betting setup, you can always try your hand at picking a winner for the Principal Charity Classic.

Plenty of big golfing, sports names present in 2021

The Principal Charity Classic often falls in an odd spot on the PGA Tour Champions calendar, on the heels of multiple major championships and preceding another run of important tournaments for the golfers. So it’s a bit unusual to see a slew of recognizable names heading to central Iowa for this week’s event.

But they’re here.

Fred Couples was a late addition to the field, joining other recognizable major winners in Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Vijay Singh and Mike Weir.

Other winners of PGA Tour-recognized majors in the field include Darren Clarke, John Daly, Retief Goosen, Lee Janzen, Bernhard Langer, Tom Lehman, Larry Mize, Mark O’Meara, Corey Pavin and Jeff Sluman.

That’s not even mentioning names such as European Tour and Ryder Cup stalwart Colin Montgomerie and Hall-of-Fame pitcher John Smoltz, the latter of which is in the event on a sponsor’s exemption.

Tricky Wakonda Club still lends low scores

Wakonda Club has been the Principal Charity Classic hosts since 2013, and only once has the winner triumphed by more than one stroke. That instance came in 2018, when Lehman took home the title by two shots in an event shortened to 36 holes by rain.

So history says to be prepared to sweat out your golf wager, even under the best of circumstances.

Scoring has steadily improved as players have gotten more familiar with the 6,851-yard layout. Given the projected weather conditions, with temperatures in the mid-80s and dry following a wet and chilly May, good scoring should again be in the forecast. Expect a score in the middle teens under par to win.

Kevin Sutherland, who won’t be defending his title this week, erased an eight-shot deficit in the final round in 2019 by shooting a course-record, 10-under 62 to get into a playoff with Scott Parel. Sutherland won the playoff on the second extra hole with a birdie.

Not everyone lays waste to the shorter track, however. Wakonda has a reputation for being among the quirkier layouts on the PGA Tour Champions. Multiple instances of steeply rolling hills create plenty of blind, uphill shots into greens. Players also must regularly deal with uneven lies from both the fairway and rough for their approach shots.

As such, even though the field boasts a bundle of big names previously mentioned, first-time (or other infrequent) participants generally have a little more trouble making their way around Wakonda than the somewhat benign setup may suggest.

YearWinnerScoreTo ParVictory Margin
2020No Tournament
2019Kevin Sutherland72-65-62 = 199-17Playoff
2018 (36 holes, rain)Tom Lehman66-65 = 131-132 strokes
2017Brandt Jobe67-66-69 = 202-141 stroke
2016Scott McCarron68-68-65 = 201-151 stroke
2015Mark Calcavecchia67-68-69 = 204-121 stroke
2014Tom Pernice Jr.68-67-69 = 204-12Playoff
2013Russ Cochran71-67-67 = 205-111 stroke

So, who are the betting favorites?

All the same, Furyk, who will be one of those first-timers, leads William Hill’s pre-tournament betting odds at +600. Furyk won his first tournament on the elder circuit last year and added a second this past September.

Alex Cejka, another newcomer to the Tour, is riding a scorching game as the winner of the past two Champions Tour majors. He’s next in line on the odds board at +750.

Langer and Midwesterner Jerry Kelly have had previous close calls at Wakonda Club, and both have +1000 odds to win this weekend. Goosen rounds out the top five to win with +1100 odds.

Other betting favorites: Els and Weir both carry +1400 odds to win, along with Sweden’s Robert Karlsson. Couples is at +1600, and Miguel Angel Jimenez is at +1800.

The 54-hole tournament runs Friday through Sunday, with warm weather approaching 90 degrees and clear skies regularly in the forecast.

Photo by Charlie Neibergall / AP file
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Written by
Danny Lawhon

Danny Lawhon has more than a decade of reporting experience in three states, including nearly 10 years with the Des Moines Register. He's covered college and professional sports, the NCAA Tournament and the PGA, LPGA and Champions Tours. Danny is a professional musician in his spare time and plays the piano and pipe organ (seriously). He now covers the online gambling industry in Michigan.

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