Kevin Fitzgerald
Idyllwild's Brendan Steele was just six shots behind the leader after two days at the Humana Challenge. Credit: Kevin Fitzgerald

On Thursday and Friday, Jan. 22 and 23, the crowds grew in size and fervor at the 56th Annual Humana Challenge—and for local fans, there was an unusual bonus, as several local PGA Tour pros were in pursuit of the winner’s payday of $1,026,000.

La Quinta resident Scott McCarron and Palm Desert’s Byron Smith were hovering near par after two days, well behind the leaders. However, Brendan Steele of Idyllwild finished Friday’s round at 9 under par, six shots behind leader Matt Kuchar.

“I’m happy with how I’ve been playing,” Steele told the Independent after Friday’s solid round. “I was a little disappointed with the last six holes today, but overall, I’m really happy with every part of my game.”

Although he and his wife are staying in a condo near the courses this week to cut down the commuting time, he recognized a lot of familiar faces behind the ropes. “The whole town of Idyllwild is showing up, and that’s always fun,” he said with a smile. “It’s a nice way to start the year.”

Each day, as the sun begins to set, many in the early-arriving crowd begin to move away from the fairways of PGA West’s Palmer Private Course and Nicklaus Private Course toward the watering holes and food-truck bonanza at the centrally located Bob Hope Square. There, they find refreshment of all sorts, and can watch the remaining action on multiple big screens. Also, for the first time this year, they can take a stroll down Charity Row to get a close-up look at the many Coachella Valley organizations that benefit directly from the dollars raised through ticket sales and concessions at the tournament.

“More than 80,000 fans enter the grounds through this walkway over the weekend,” said Chrissy Ormond, the client services manager at the Humana Challenge, who works for Desert Classic Charities, “and we just thought this would be a great way to promote many of the 40 recipient charities in the desert and let people get to know who they are.”

While the basic daily grounds pass costs $40 this year, fans might feel better about paying that sum if they understand that much of that money goes to directly to local charities.

“The biggest thing for me is to help the fans understand that while we are a professional golf tournament, we are really positively impacting lives in the Coachella Valley as well,” she said.

Scroll down to see some pictures from the first two days of the Humana Challenge.

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Kevin Fitzgerald

Kevin Fitzgerald is the staff writer for the Coachella Valley Independent. He started as a freelance writer for the Independent in June 2013, more than a year after he and his wife moved from Los Angeles...