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Clinton, Golf Greats Descend on La Quinta as Humana Challenge Play Begins

The former president helped build excitement for the tournament at a press conference Thursday.

The 2013 Humana Challenge officially got underway Thursday, as 156 professional players descended on the Valley for the second year of the former Bob Hope Classic.

Former President Bill Clinton, PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem and Humana Chairman of the Board Mike McCallister spoke to the media ahead of play.

When asked by reporters if he thinks his presence may intimidate the professional players, Clinton joked that his game counteracts any celebrity he may bring.

"That might have been last year, but when they saw how lousy I was, I think they got over it in a hurry," he joked.

Golfing greats Gary Player and Billy Casper took a few ceremonial shots to help start the Humana Challenge Thursday at PGA West's Palmer and Nicklaus private courses and La Quinta Country Club.

Bob Marra, the executive director and CEO, said the Humana Challenge had grown to be "not just about the golf but the benefit of living a healthy lifestyle ... and media and the community really got behind it.

"When you have a new angle, a whole new way of thinking about a PGA Tour event ... and to pull it off so well, I think was at a core of it."     Changing the format from five rounds to four also gave the tournament a boost, he said.

"That really created a better formula and encouraged the players to start their season here," Marra said. "It made it easier to get to town, settle in, come practice and play,"     After the Humana Challenge was named Sports Event of the Year by SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily, people started asking Marra if he was done with improvements.

"No way," he said.

Organizers are trying to make the tournament the best PGA Tour event of the year "and that's what we're going to try to do," Marra said.

Prepared for Strong Winds

High winds forced delays during the tournament's third round last year.

"We'll be ready for it, we'll be ready for an earthquake if it happens," Marra said. "These days you can't run an event without having a plan."     The winds, however, should be light and the daytime highs in the mid 70s.

"We think it'll be phenomenal, as it often is here, but if it changes we're ready for that," Marra said.

Themed Days This Year

A new element of the tournament are theme days. Thursday is Seniors' Day, Friday is Women's Day, Saturday is Military Appreciation Day and Sunday is Kids' Day.

"We've got so much going on, and it's for anyone in the valley, not just golfers," Marra said.

Each day will feature discounts, ceremonies and live entertainment at the Palmer course.

On Seniors' Day, attendees will receive a free PGA West golf chip with any purchase in the merchandise tent and pro shop at PGA West, and $2 off "healthy choice" items at concession stands.

PGA Tour legends Billy Casper and Al Geiberger will speak with fans at noon, and well-being company Healthways will conduct a fall prevention seminar and "SilverSneakers" demos. A Frank Sinatra tribute show is also scheduled.

On Women's Day, golfers and fans are encouraged to wear red to support the "Go Red for Women" campaign against heart disease. Red golf shirts and hats will be discounted 15 percent in the merchandise tent and pro shop, and anyone clad in red will get $2 off concession items.

A fashion show, "A Day in the Life of a Golfer," is scheduled at noon, and John Stanley King will perform.

On Military Appreciation Day, the first 2,000 spectators at PGA West will receive a Bob Hope commemorative pin. The day will start with a military- themed musical montage on bagpipes at 8:15 a.m. and end with a military appreciation ceremony on the 18th green after play ends. Military personnel with valid ID get 15 percent off merchandise and $2 off concessions. Recording artist Kelley James will perform.

Active-duty, reserve and military retirees and their dependents will be admitted free throughout the tournament. For tickets, they must enter the code "Military" on Humana's website. The Humana Military Outpost pavilion, which will be set up between the first tee and ninth green at the Palmer course at PGA West, will have indoor seating, outdoor patio seating and free food and drinks.

On Kids' Day, the PowerBilt Junior Golf Clinic will be open to all children on the driving range at 11 a.m. Other activities will include golf swing cages, face painting, balloons, a fire engine and The Living Desert's "Wildlife on Wheels" program. Children will also receive $5 off any purchase at Tumbleweeds at La Quinta Resort and $2 off concessions.

--City News Service contributed to this report.

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