PGA Tour parties 'Hardy' at fabulous Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in Farmington

By Chris Rodell, Contributor

Isabel couldn't stop the 84 Lumber Classic, but John Daly's withdrawal dampens spirits a bit.

FARMINGTON, Pa -- The brightest new star on the PGA Tour can't hit a drive 220 yards with the benefit of a generous tailwind. He weighs more than any two caddies thrown together in a big sack, and he goes out of his way to thank reporters who compare him to Jed Clampett.

He's Joe Hardy, the Pittsburgh alchemist who turned lumber into gold. He's the 80-year-old owner and founder of 84 Lumber and in these days of declining corporate sponsorships, his money and enthusiasm are turning PGA Tour officials and fans into giddy school girls.

"Mr. Hardy has told us several times that he wants the 84 Lumber Pennsylvania Classic to be the best stop on tour and he's willing to spend immediately to ensure that it will be just that," says Henry Hughes, PGA Tour chief of operations. "He and his daughter Maggie want only the very best. In a short time, the Hardys have become very satisfying new friends for the PGA Tour."

Hardy's irresistible charisma makes him the only billionaire on earth poorer people - and that's about all the rest of us - will actually root for. When Hurricane Isabel washed out Friday play at the tournament, the prevailing sentiment was one of pity - not for soaked fans - but for the bubbly billionaire.

"I feel bad for Mr. Hardy," one drenched spectator was heard to say. "He's put so much into this and it's a shame the weather didn't cooperate."

Understand, the sun, even in the midst of a hurricane, is always shining on Joe Hardy, and that's good for everyone. Tickets for the inaugural $4 million tournament, won Sunday by 43-year-old Tour veteran J.L. Lewis ($720,000), were an exceedingly reasonable $11.

When one reporter for the local paper said such simplicity and generosity haven't been evinced in such a man of means since Jed Clampett rolled into Beverly Hills, Hardy phoned the reporter and said he felt complimented.

Hardy's status as folk hero for the common man was recently cemented when 84 Lumber became the corporate sponsor of John Daly. Daly, the tourney's unofficial host, withdrew on Saturday. It was the beleaguered pro's third withdrawal in four events, a disappointing result that only seems to endear him more to many fans who still fervently root for him to straighten out his wild drives and wild ways.

For Hardy, whose company has helped oversee the building of countless homes and buildings across America, John Daly has become his biggest, most challenging reconstruction project. He told reporters after Daly's withdrawal, which Daly representatives said was due to "dehydration," that he fears for Daly.

"He's okay, I guess," Hardy said. "But I'm really worried about him. I really am. I hope he's going to be all right. I'm very close to John."

Even with a hurricane wiping out Friday's rounds, the darkest development of the tournament was seeing a shaking and disoriented looking Daly sitting uncomfortably on his bag aside the 15th fairway as he waited for emergency personnel to cart him off for intravenous treatments and a fresh round of press scrutiny about his personal life.

It damped the mood more than Isabel ever could. Even as a round of funny 84 Lumber commercials starring Daly were unveiled during the ESPN broadcast, Daly was being treated not far from the $2 million namesake John Daly Learning Center dedicated in his honor this May. The lavish teaching golf facility features $20,000 plasma screen TVs and other posh amenities that will soon force standard golf schools to upgrade from shed to shrine or get lost in the comparison.

Joe Hardy never disappoints

Daly's condition was clearly upsetting to Hardy, Daly's acknowledged father-figure, at a time when Hardy should have been basking in the praise for his successful opening tournament.

Third-place finisher Rocco Mediate ($146,000), a hometown favorite from nearby Greensburg, gushed about the event.

"Joe put on a hell of a show," Mediate said. "They have the possibility of getting that 'major feel' here."

Others even welcomed the rain delay because it allowed them to enjoy the horse-back riding, rock climbing, the shooting range and the rollicking Hummer driving school and test track offered at Nemacolin. Tim Petrovic, who finished second ($298,666), said: "This was a great experience. This was probably the best food (at the hotel) we've had all year. They have everything here -- we couldn't ask for anything more."

Hardy's recently been electrifying legions of both the poor and the pampered by loudly announcing he intends to die broke. Thick stacks of envelopes leave in Nemacolin letterhead each month bound for needy organizations throughout the land. Inside each is a handsome check.

But his philanthropy isn't confined to the needy; Joe Billionaire wants the world to party Hardy. One of the chief beneficiaries of his extravagance will be The Tour and its fans.

Since 2000, the Pennsylvania Classic has ping-ponged between the eastern and western sides of the Keystone State. Hardy's secured it for Mystic Rock through at least 2006, achieving a dream he'd nurtured since 1995 when he paid Pete Dye $12 million in 1995 to construct the jewel-like Mystic Rock as a sparkling adornment to his Nemacolin Woodlands Resort & Spa in Farmington, about 90 minutes southeast of Pittsburgh. Dye oversaw numerous changes to the course to elevate its outstanding conditioning to pristine Tour specs.

Mystic Rock already has a "halfway" house luxurious enough to host pricey wedding receptions. To this he's adding a new $40 million, 42-room lodge specifically for the tournament. "Falling Rock Lodge" will be patterned after nearby architectural Frank Lloyd Wright national treasure Fallingwater. Each room will include individual butler service, 24-hour room service and a PGA professional on staff and on call to give swing tips to even the sleepless.

"I want this to be the very best because I want people to enjoy it," Hardy says. "We'll keep trying to get better and better and better. We have plans after this tournament to make a very, very, lovely, lovely clubhouse that we think will get national attention. We are deliriously happy. We just want everyone to have a great time. That's what I'm all about, people having fun."

Signs of the Hardy extravagance are everywhere, as are others along the roads that indicate another Hardy mission is underway: "Vote Joe Hardy."

The self-made man is running for Fayette County commissioner, a job that pays $40,000 per year.

"At least voters will know I'm not in it to steal from them," he jokes.

He won't need anyone's authority to do it, so look for one of his newest projects to be the lengthening of the resort runway to accommodate the bigger jets for bigger stars he's hoping to lure with satisfied word-of-mouth from pros.

"Next year when all the players hear about the resort and how spoiled we get here, you're going to see a lot of players coming in," Jesper Parnevik told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Especially when they open up that landing strip."

Hardy aspires to elevate the tournament to the upper echelons of golf's pantheon. And he's willing to spend to do it.

"I'm sure we can strengthen the field for next year," he said. "If we have to pump some things in another area or two, we certainly have the resources to do it."

Now, if he can only do something about strengthening the stability of John Daly.

Chris RodellChris Rodell, Contributor

Chris Rodell may not be the best golf writer, the most productive or the best informed, but he is the only golf writer who lives on Arnold Palmer Drive one half mile from Latrobe Country Club and The King himself.

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