"In the seventh-, eighth-, ninth-largest market in the country, we weren't comfortable with that."

Tarik El-Bashir and Marc Carig file a lengthy Washington Post story on the evolution of Tiger's new D.C. event. Thanks to reader Sean for this, which includes one nice ironic bit.

Finchem said last week that he kept Booz Allen in the dark to avoid a leak of the Tour's planned schedule changes. But he also was less than generous in his assessment of the tournament's performance.

"All of this happened in the backdrop, candidly, of recognizing that the event in Washington had not performed over the years at the level we want to see a PGA Tour event perform generally, but particularly an event that we want to see perform in the nation's capital," he said. "In the seventh-, eighth-, ninth-largest market in the country, we weren't comfortable with that."

Asked for his response to Finchem's comment, Shrader said: "I felt we tried hard to earn a world-class event here in Washington. I feel that the event we had at Congressional in 2005 was a world-class event that demonstrated given a golf course and a date, we could have a world-class event here in Washington, one that the city and the people deserve. I'm happy Tiger and AT&T have come and I look forward to it being a big success."

Somehow I'm having a hard time believe Booz Allen was the problem here. It can't be all technology driving the $20 million being put into TPC Avenel.  

"How do we build the platform together?"

faldotilghmanbeach_299x299.jpgSI's Alan Shipnuck pens a long (and I mean long!) feature on The Golf Channel Golf Channel and how it's really all things wonderful. So touching to see how fatherhood has mellowed Alan to the point he can listen to Jerry Foltz drone on and not want to scream like Howard Beale.

Well, we learn that Nick Faldo and Kelly Tilghman engaged in carefully conceived exercises (they hiked, they surfed!). And we learn that when you combine the ratings of all the telecasts the numbers are actually up, which still doesn't settle the Sportscenter issue that was the heart of those begging for some ESPN involvement. And we learn that a 15-year deal was necessary because, as Tim Finchem asks inanely rhetorically, "How do we build the platform together?"

Oy.

I did love this from Dave Manougian, who apparently bamboozled the PGA Tour's army of VP's with this logic:

 

"I'm not sure if there's much difference between 15 years or 12 or 10," says Manougian. "To increase our distribution, we obviously needed a long-term commitment from the Tour, but quite honestly, once you get past six or eight years you sort of say, Well, we might as well go for it now!"
One revealing quote comes from Joe Ogilvie:
"There's no question all of us benefit as the channel grows," says Ogilvie. "There are kickers in the contract to guarantee that. I think players are slowly starting to realize we're married to the channel, so to speak. It's in our best interests to help it succeed."
And isn't this precisely the danger?

 

That the PGA Tour becomes a soft core version of the Big Break, with the separation of media and player turning each telecast into an infomercial?

Or is an infomercial-like brand plugfest just what today's America finds most comforting?

Oh please thoughtful readers, chime in.

"Desperate and dateless"

Mick Elliott on the Tour's sponsorless Tampa stop, which will be returning to Innisbrook in March:

Crazy is what this has become. Long ago it was common knowledge Chrysler planned a dramatic decrease in its golf sponsorship, ending tournament involvement for Tampa Bay, Tucson, Ariz., and Greensboro, N.C., after this year. Yet the season is ending with the PGA Tour and Tampa Bay tournament officials desperate and dateless.

A tournament designated worthy of a place on the spring schedule, played on a golf course players call one of the best and most popular on tour, and contributor of more than $8 million to local charities since its 2000 inception hasn't found a sponsor.
And...
With the exception of two "out of the box" hopefuls - both invited by the tournament and both getting their initial introduction to golf - no corporate checkbooks searching for a place to put the company name set foot on Innisbrook during the week.

I'm just wondering how the Tour could move this event to March without having had a sponsor locked up? Did they underestimate Chrysler's desire to get out of golf?

Or was there a little Florida-is-wonderful bias that led them to assume sponsors would line up for a week at Innisbrook?

Because we know the resort didn't want to move to March and well, most importantly, the drapes and decor are outdated. 

"Stay tuned - this thing is a long way from over."

John Huggan is in fine curmudgeonly form while looking at the havoc the FedEx Cup schedule is creating on the European Tour.

As America's PGA Tour embarks on a lucratively-reshaped season that will "climax" with something called the Fed-Ex Cup - oh, the history, the mystique - and very likely pull many of Europe's leading players across the Atlantic even more than has already been the case, the European Tour's money-list is destined to be won by someone who picks up the vast majority of his cash in so-called co-sanctioned events - where prize- money is eligible on more than one circuit - rather than by a man ranked outside the world's top-50, and thus "relegated" to playing most of his golf outside of the United States.

So it is that the just-released European Tour International Schedule is all about filling dates. Next season, as the blaring press release was quick to trumpet, the European Tour will consist of at least 50 events - a "momentous milestone" - as it winds its often mediocre way across the globe.

Also, Golfweek's Rex Hoggard fires a few shots at the FedEx Cup as he looks at issues with the Champions Tour schedule. And he notes this about another major change in the Valiant Competitors Tour:

Starting with next month's Q-School, players will no longer play for a Champions Tour card. Instead, the hopeful will vie for a chance to qualify for events. The top-30 finishers from Q-School will earn a seat at the Monday qualifying table each week and play for nine spots in that week's tournament.

With the move, golf's most closed club just went private.

"There are some positives and some negatives," George said of the new qualifying system. "How will it impact the international players on the tour? I want to make sure the tournaments aren't impacted by the qualifying. We're going into it very cautiously."

But back to Huggan and Hoggard's pithy FedEx Cup remarks.

Isn't it interesting that time has not helped the Tour's concept age like fine wine, but instead has some of golf's finest inkslingers realizing just how flawed the schedule and points concepts are?

"We wanted to get more brand exposure from this"

Robert Bell says they finally have a sponsor for the 2007 Greensboro event.
"The Wyndham Championship," said Bobby Long, who heads the charitable foundation that runs Greensboro's professional golf tournament. "It's a clean and simple name. I like it more every time I say it."
WIth $25 million over 4 years, anything sounds good.
Wyndham becomes the second hospitality company this year to sponsor a PGA Tour event. Earlier this summer, Crowne Plaza signed a six-year deal to host the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial in Texas. Hanning said that deal surprised company officials but did not prompt Wyndham to jump into the sports world.

"The PGA Tour and its fan base have always matched up well with our demographics," he said.

Hanning said Wyndham executives initially wanted to attend next week's final Chrysler Classic of Greensboro at Forest Oaks Country Club before agreeing to any deal but changed their minds.

"We wanted to get more brand exposure from this," [Wyndham CEO Franz Hanning] said. "Besides, we didn't want to have to hide behind any trees next week."

"I'd love to know what all went on, to tell you the truth"

Mike Dudurich sheds a little light on why the PGA Tour is taking some of the blame for the 84 Lumber Classic's demise.

A convergence of circumstances caused Maggie Hardy Magerko, president and owner of 84 Lumber Company, to cancel the tournament less than a month after the PGA Tour announced that the event had been moved to June in 2007, the week after the U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club.

Hardy Magerko's announcement came soon after she instituted a three-year business plan to make the lumber company more profitable. A $100 million investment over six years -- with an option for a seventh year at the PGA Tour's discretion -- didn't jive with that plan. And when tournament organizers approached the PGA Tour with its concerns, they received no response.

In fact, the PGA Tour didn't sign a letter of intent or a new contract that was submitted. A few days after Hardy Magerko informed Tour officials in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., of her concerns, the PGA announced that the St. Paul Travelers Championship in Hartford, Conn., would take the 84 Lumber Classic's spot the third week in June.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and Tour senior vice president and chief of operations Henry Hughes chose not to be interviewed for this story.

It's unknown why the PGA Tour decided to give St. Paul Travelers a fourth-year deal and turn down 84 Lumber's request.


And how's this...

"I'd love to know what all went on, to tell you the truth," said Joe Durant, a member of the PGA Tour's policy board. "We all have to say thanks to the Hardys for treating us like kings and putting on such great events. We don't get treated like that normally."

A member of the PGA Tour policy board doesn't know what transpired? 

"Give us a chance to sort this out"

Nice to see the PGA Tour Commish Tim Finchem acknowledging that not visiting Chicago annually starting in 2007 was not such a hot idea. Ed Sherman reports:

"The reaction has been strong, and we take that into consideration," said Finchem, in town for the PGA Championship. "It's not often I get e-mails from fans who don't like what we're doing. . . . Give us a chance to sort this out. There may be a change in plans."

"I know people are disappointed about '08 and '10, but I'd like them to think about what they are getting in '07, '09 and '11," he said. "We ask the fans to hang with us. Out of six years, the best players in the world are going to be here at least four years, and maybe [twice in 2012]. That's not bad."

"There must have been a hiccup somewhere"

John Gordon on the Canadian Open's lousy date in 2007, offers this from Vijay Singh:
"For a Canadian Open, it's not right to have a date like that. It's a very odd date for a Canadian Open. Here you have one of the most prestigious events on Tour, and to have it on a date like that?

"I don't know what happened. There must have been a hiccup somewhere. You got the wrong end of the stick. I'm going to try to talk to [Finchem] and see if there is a chance of moving the dates."

Shapiro Reviews Prospects For Washington Golf

The Washington Post's Leonard Shapiro on the PGA Tour pulling out of Washington:

I think the commissioner heard loud and clear that Washington was not about to accept a second-class golf event played at what has become a second-class venue at TPC Avenel. He heard it from his own players, from the press, from talk radio, from letters to the editor, from e-mails on the internet and other correspondence to his office in Ponte Vedra. And finally, I believe he got the point.

Now it seems as if the tour may also finally be getting serious about fixing up Avenel, ostensibly the reason there will be no tournament here in 2007, and probably 2008 as well. If the tour is going to spend what they say is $18 to $20 million and what others say likely will balloon to the $25 million range, they want to do it right.

They really can't re-route the golf course, but they can certainly move enough earth to make it a more challenging venue, and perhaps also upgrade the infrastructure Avenel never has had to support the thousands of golf fans who have flocked to the course year after year.

So does anyone know if these $20 and $25 million figures represent just what is being spent on the course, or also include a clubhouse redo?

Ferguson: Blame Tiger and Phil

AP's Doug Ferguson says that Tim Finchem is not entirely to blame for the changes in Chicago and Washington D.C.

Finchem was a convenient target, the czar behind these changes aimed at making the golf season shorter and more interesting.

But it's not all his fault.

If anyone has complaints, look no further than Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. They were the catalysts who first started barking about the PGA Tour season being too long. All the commissioner did was respond to his two biggest stars.

Questioning Finchem

Ed Sherman on his Chicago Tribune golf blog:

...to hear people talk, rotating the tournament to other Midwest cities also was part of the price. No way. The Evans Scholars would make just as much money if the tournament stayed at Cog Hill.

We spent the entire week in the press room trying to figure out why PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem made this decision. There has to be something we're missing, perhaps some grand marketing scheme that is way over our feeble brains.

I don't think so. There can't be a reasonable explanation why the PGA Tour would leave the nation's third largest market to go to much smaller towns in the Midwest.

Even worse, do you realize in 2008 the Tour won't be in cities like Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington D.C.? When I asked Jim Furyk about that situation last week, he tried to be diplomatic, but you could see he was troubled by the Tour's lack of presence in the major markets.

Perhaps, the Tour wants to go small-time.  That has to be it, because its thinking certainly is small time.

They Understand The FedEx Cup In Chicago (Well, not really)

In a Q&A with Mike Spellman dubbed, "Let's wait, see about BMW Championship," Western Golf Association's Don Johnson demonstrates little idea of the FedEx Cup is going to work, and little enthusiasm for the scheduling change. Welcome to the club Don!

Q. When you first heard the idea of this playoff system, what were your thoughts?

A. I was confused.

Q. How long did it take to get unconfused?

A. Well, I’m not sure that I am. The point system and everything … I think anybody in the golf business who’s forthright about it is going to tell you we have to wait and see how this thing is going to work. The PGA Tour thinks it’s going to be wonderful, and I hope they’re right.

Q. It’s kind of a roll of the dice, isn’t it?

A. Yeah. And they may have to tweak it a little bit after the first year when they see how it actually works in fact as opposed to in theory. It’s certainly going to be a great thing for us being the final tournament before the Tour Championship.

Q. Why is the move from the Fourth of July to Labor Day a good thing?

A. The jury is still out on that, to be honest about it. I don’t know what happens to the interest in golf in Chicago after Labor Day. I’m hoping this event will be so spectacular that they’ll turn out, but we have to wait and see. It’s a work in progress.

Q. Your main worry about the September date?

A. You’ve got your Labor Day drop-off in golf, and then you’ve got Big Ten football, Notre Dame football; you’ve got baseball heading toward the playoffs … but we won’t have Taste of Chicago. There will be some competition we don’t have now. We’ll have to wait and see.

Q. Do the smaller crowds this year give you cause for concern next year?

A. Yes. The answer to that is yes. I worry that this week with the field we’ve had and the weather, that we have less people here than we had last year. (On Saturday) we had 7,000 less. That’s a lot. I don’t get it.


The Last Western

Ed Sherman lists all of the things disappearing with the demise of the Western. In all of the talk of FedEx Cup nonsense, I forgot that the "Open" aspect will disappear, meaning no more qualifying and no more spots for the Western Am winner.

It will be the last time it can be considered an open tournament. The stories about qualifiers always have been among the neat things about the Western.

It will be the last time Chicago can call itself the permanent home of the Western. The tournament has been here since 1962.

And last but not least, this week will be the last time anyone calls the tournament "the Western." That's been its name since 1899.

This week will mean farewell to the Western Open as we know it. After 107 years, one of the game's greatest traditions will be gone.

Booz Allen Stories

Obviously I'm still catching up, but there are a few things worth noting in the SI and Golf World game stories covering the Booz Allen's demise. Though neither story questions what would actually require $25 million to redo Avenel (copper irrigation piping?), the handling of Booz's Ralph Shrader was laid out in detail by Gary Van Sickle.

While being wooed by the Tour, Shrader was shown what he calls "exciting" plans for an imminent $25 million renovation of Avenel. The tournament would have to be moved for a year during construction, and favors were called in so that in 2005 the Booz Allen could be played at nearby Congressional Country Club, which has hosted two U.S. Opens. Last year's Classic, played the week before the Open and won by García, was a huge success, but in the meantime not a teaspoon of dirt was turned at Avenel. Finchem blamed delays in getting the needed permits due to Avenel's environmentally sensitive wetland areas, an inexcusable planning lapse if true.

Shrader was equally frustrated in his quest for a preferred date. Shrader wanted the week before the U.S. Open every year, if possible. "One thing we learned in 2004 was that the week after the Open doesn't work here," he says. "Washington is one of those towns where, once the kids are out of school, everybody goes somewhere else and this place shuts down. The Tour said, 'Hey, get in line. A lot of people want to play that [pre-Open] week.'"

But six months before the '05 Classic, Shrader says he got a letter from Finchem. According to Shrader, "[Finchem] said, 'We haven't finalized the schedule, but I'm confident in assuring you that you can have your tournament before the Open three out of four years. Two of those years would be the week before the Open, the third year would probably be another date sometime before the Open, but the fourth year would have to be the week after. We are well aware of your concerns, and we are going forward with our plans for the course.'"

Shrader says he had several conversations with the Tour in succeeding weeks and met with Tour execs during the Presidents Cup in September. Another session was scheduled for two weeks later but was canceled by the Tour. Shrader says he received a subsequent letter from the Tour saying, "Give us another 30 days." Says Shrader, "The next conversation I had was on a Friday morning in January when [Finchem] called two hours before the FedEx Cup and the 2007 schedule was announced. He said, 'We've decided to move your tournament to the fall.' I was surprised, obviously. It was totally different than anything I'd been presented."

And Jim Moriarty writes in Golf World:

In a telephone interview, commissioner Tim Finchem said the tour never contemplated making any changes to Avenel until 2006, yet Shrader secured Congressional as the venue for the highly successful 2005 event held the week before the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. While both sides acknowledge that permit problems have delayed work on Avenel, Funk, for one, wondered, "When we're spending however much money we're spending down at TPC [at] Sawgrass, doing a huge renovation there, do we have the funds to do a huge renovation here as well?"

Enter the FedEx Cup. Lo and behold, when FedEx agreed to ante up $40 million to be the title sponsor of the tour's new year-ending points race, the tournament FedEx used to sponsor in Memphis just happened to get the date the week before the U.S. Open coveted by Booz Allen. With the Players Championship moving to May, "It's just one of those situations where we had too much water to put in the glass," said Finchem. Good for Memphis, not so good for D.C.

The Western No Longer

I actually got to read this Ed Sherman column on the death of the Western as it appeared in the Chicago Tribune. And I wonder how many people at the Tour realize what the "Western Open" name has meant to pro golf? Doesn't matter now.

Officials, using well-rehearsed lines, tried to explain why Chicago golf fans shouldn't feel jilted.

"We really don't look at it as abandoning Chicago," the PGA Tour's Tom Wade said. "We look at it as really upgrading and bringing a top-level, world-class event to Chicago."

How much of an upgrade do we need?

Sure, the September field will be deeper, but Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh are Western Open regulars and Phil Mickelson is an occasional visitor.

Are the crowds, which average in the high 40,000 range on the weekend, going to be substantially bigger because Retief Goosen is in the field? I'd rather see Woods every year and take a pass on Goosen.

The fact is, a strong local sponsor never would have allowed the tournament to be moved.

It remains a mystery why, after Motorola bowed out in 1999, a Chicago-area company never stepped up to support the event.

Now BMW, for a substantial $12 million to $14 million per year investment in sponsor costs, has renamed the tournament. It's hard to see the Western Open name go, but at least Evans Scholars will see a major boost in funding. That's one upgrade we can accept.

It wasn't BMW's decision to rotate tournament locations. That ruling came from the PGA Tour.

Washington Politics

Thanks to Jim A. for the heads up on this Leonard Shapiro story on the Washington event, and the contradicting views of those involved in the event's demise move to the fall.

"Booz Allen made it clear from Day One about certain date limitations after the U.S. Open," Finchem said. "That more or less dovetailed with our attitude that continuing to move the tournament back and forth [before and after the Open] was not consistent with being able to stage the kind of event and to have continuity of sponsorship. The main thing, the main point of Booz Allen, is they did not want to play anything after the Open. That was troublesome for us."

Booz Allen chairman Ralph Shrader disputed Finchem's version of events. He said the last formal communication he received from the tour on dates for the tournament came in February 2005. He said the tour at that point offered a four-year sponsorship cycle that would have included three dates before the Open and a fourth after the Open, with the possibility of staging all four before the Open.

"That was the last formal communication we had with the tour," Shrader said. "At that point they also said they would finalize the plans to renovate the course at Avenel and they'd get back to us. They got back to me two hours before they said [in a news conference in January] they had moved the event to the fall.

"We did not have the opportunity to say no. I won't allow it to be perceived that Booz Allen cost the Washington area the event. We worked too hard and spent too much money [about $30 million over three years] to make it a first-class event. I'm not going to accept any blame for what happened. It's all in the tour's court."