Pulling the Pursestrings

Published on Tuesday, July 24th, 2012 in Features

Tiger Woods

To examine whether it’s a good idea to pursue an annual PGA stop in the Northwest, you have to ask the fundamental questions of what, who and when — which are fairly straightforward — then the more complex questions such as where, how and especially, why.

To begin with, here’s WHAT we’re talking about and WHO would be part of it:

A PGA event features — ostensibly — the world’s best golfers, generally a field of about 120 with an average purse of about $5.5 million, of which the winner receives around $1 million. That’s about four times the payout of the average Champions Tour event — and is equivalent to the cost hike in event management, sponsorship, etc. Just about everything quadruples. When you’re bringing the big boys into town, it takes big-time money.

Those two questions are directly related to the, WHEN? The Northwest has a much narrower time frame for a PGA event than most places. You can’t hold it the first five months of the year, or the final three months. That’s why Hawaii, California, Florida and Texas take over from January until June. The weather is uncertain here during those months, and even June can be dicey. Chambers Bay, in mid-June 2015, might be one of the colder U.S. Opens.

So what we are left with is a mid-June to September window, and currently, that is closed tight.

“You have to have a date, a sponsor and a geographic flow. There are a lot of factors,’’ Votaw says. “Right now, there is not an opening on the schedule.”

The best this region could hope for, at least initially, is a second-tier event, a tournament held the same week as a major or a World Golf Championship event.

Such secondary events — such as the True South Classic in Mississippi on July 19-22 (opposite the British Open) or the Reno-Tahoe Open on Aug. 2-5 (opposite the WGC-Bridgestone) — have a reduced purse, but also a depleted field. There are precious few headliners — not enough to draw mad spectator support.

Boeing Classic crowd travels from one hole to another.

Then there’s, WHERE?

“Private clubs with a real estate component have the most interest, because they use that (the tournament) to sell lots,” says Matt Allen, general manger at Chambers Bay. “Most of the tournaments are on private courses. That’s part of the equation, finding membership willing to take that on on an annual basis.’’

Indeed, this year the PGA Tour schedule includes 23 country clubs. Public courses Torrey Pines and Pebble Beach that host annual events — as well as majors — are among the exceptions, and are also exceptional.
Sahalee’s membership stepped up to take on the 1998 PGA Championship and the 2002 NEC Championship, but those were both one-time events.

The best location in Seattle probably is the one already being used by the Boeing Classic – TPC Snoqualmie Ridge. It’s challenging. It can be stretched to accommodate the younger, longer hitters. It’s already connected by contract to the PGA. It has the infrastructure, experience and know-how to put on an outstanding event. And its membership has voted consistently to keep the Boeing Classic, despite the annual disruption to member play.

But having two tournaments on site likely would not be acceptable to membership, and would require a rather awkward flip-flop from Champions to PGA. There also are quite a few houses on the site, which may limit the larger crowd flow.

For the same reason, few public courses have enough room to handle the crowds, while also providing a significant challenge to the pros. Chambers Bay, at 7,800 yards, is the most logical, but does management want an annual event after 2015?

“I think the primary driving factor is how it affects our relationship with the USGA,’’ says Chambers’ general manager, Matt Allen. “If it affects it negatively, then it’s off the table. If it didn’t, then I think it comes down to whether it’s a meaningful positive financial benefit to the course.

“If the Open gives us exposure and the maturity of the course comes together,” he continues, “then I’d rather just be busy serving golfers before pursuing anything else.’’

From 1980-1999, membership at Meridian Valley Country Club in Kent cleared the way for the LPGA’s Safeco Classic on its course. The members agreed to give up playing the course for three weeks in the prime summer season while the infrastructure – bleachers, parking, etc. — was set up, and the club turned about $100,000 profit on the annual event.

Greg Manley, the head professional at Meridian Valley, said there is a ‘”semi-active” group trying to get the LPGA to return.

“From Meridian Valley’s perspective, to start up an LPGA event would not be very difficult. It would take roughly $3 million to $5 million,’’ Manley says. “For a PGA event, though, my guess is about $15 million to $20 million.”

It’s a good guess. Nelson, crucial to the startup of the Boeing, said a major sponsor for a PGA event would be on the hook for as much as $20 million.

“In the big picture, it’s all about the title sponsor. That’s the most critical piece,” Nelson says. “And it’s not inexpensive. It can be $10 million, $12 million, $14 million for the naming rights. Then there’s the (hosting) in the skyboxes. You fly in guests and customers for the event. They need to be housed, fed and given gifts. I’d say it would be $18 million to $20 million for a PGA event.”

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