Pulling the Pursestrings

Published on Tuesday, July 24th, 2012 in Features

CG digs deep to learn just what it would take to bring the PGA or LPGA Tour to Seattle – and whether or not it’s worth it. The answer might surprise you.

By Bob Sherwin

Fred Couples

Here in the Northwest, we love our own, as every region does. We celebrate golfers who were raised in the Puget Sound region — they are our native sons and daughters, and they make us proud to be from this corner of the world.

But their triumphs take place somewhere else, not here. We cheer for them in absentia.

Take Fred Couples, the greatest golfer the Northwest has ever produced. His early days in Seattle are legend, a cock-sure teenager who learned the game at Jefferson Park and collected fists full of dollars in skins games against golfers twice his age. At age 18, playing in tennis shoes, Couples won the 1978 Washington State Open, defeating former PGA pro Don Bies.

Then he was gone. He went to Houston for college, followed by 30 years on the PGA Tour, making his name and fortune in places far from home. He didn’t play in a professional tournament here again until the 1998 PGA at Sahalee Country Club, then returned one more time in 2002. It was a thrill when he began making regular appearances at the Champions Tour’s Boeing Classic in 2010, but Northwest fans were deprived of watching Couples in his prime.

We also didn’t see much of his predecessors, or contemporaries. Arnie, Jack and Gary were just images on a TV screen, and none of today’s stars — Phil, Tiger, Rory, Bubba — seem to be in a hurry to play Northwest courses.

As a region, outside of the annual Boeing Classic at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge, we have become the PGA Tour’s equivalent to the Siberian Swing. When Sahalee hosted the 1998 PGA, it was the first PGA Tour major held in the Northwest since 1944, a year when all the good players were in a different kind of bunker. We’ll get another one in 2015 at Chambers Bay — a full 17 years later, or enough time for an entire generation to grow up having never seen a PGA Tour player in their prime.

Fans enjoying the Boeing Classic

The question is — why not? This is an area rich in golf tradition, rich in glorious golf courses and an abundance of high-caliber native sons and daughters.

The Puget Sound region can be proud of its contribution to the Tour, including past PGA Tour players Couples, Bies, Ken Still of Tacoma and Kermit Zarley of Seattle and budding stars like Ryan Moore of Puyallup and Kyle Stanley of Gig Harbor — a list that more than doubles if you include Oregon and Eastern Washington.
There’s the potential future stars like Andres Gonzales, Michael Putnam and the rapidly-growing list of pros produced by the nationally-acclaimed UW program, like Nick Taylor, Richard Lee, Alex Prugh, Troy Kelly and siblings Brock and Paige Mackenzie.

“There’s no question. Seattle can support an (annual PGA) event,’’ says Ty Votaw, the PGA Tour Executive Vice President of Communications & International Affairs.

But it’s complicated. It would take a tremendous groundswell of support, commitment, money and leadership to bring a regular PGA stop to the Northwest. At the present time, those elements are not in the mix.

Then there’s the issue of whether it’s worth it, since Portland already has a thriving LPGA event (the Safeway Classic, at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club) and Seattle has a highly successful Champions Tour event, the Boeing Classic at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge. Why mess with those? How would a PGA event fit in around them?
“It’s not necessarily an upgrade,” says Chuck Nelson, who helped bring the Boeing Classic to Seattle in 2005 as the event’s original executive director. “I do like to think big, and a PGA event here would have a lot of advantages. But I’m not sure how much better it would be from a really, really good Champions event to a ordinary, maybe even second-tier, PGA event.’’

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