Posted by: furmanbisher | January 4, 2009

PGA Tour Rests Uneasily

Things are not looking too good on the PGA Tour. In our area the bad news has already struck. AT&T pulled out of the tournament at Sugarloaf in Gwinnett County. The longtime event lost its place to Tiger Woods’ AT&T Congressional near Washington, and no replacement was found even on either the Champions or Nationwide Tour.

Now the news is out that the Wachovia, played in Charlotte, will be no more. In just six years it had become one of the Tour’s star events, played on a classic course at Quail Hollow. All the big guys showed up, Woods, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Vijay Singh, the front-row cast, and it became premier TV fare, drawing some of the largest galleries on Tour. They were just about to start printing the ’09 tickets when the bad news struck. Wachovia, once one of the South’s most reputable banking firms, was bought out by Wells Fargo for $11-plus billion, and Wells-Fargo said that it will continue support of the event. That is the expectation, not a guarantee.

Financial institutions form a backbone of tournament sponsors and presenters, sort of second-row participants. Eleven such firms form a backbone of Tour backers, including two of the playoff events in the FedEx Cup series. Which brings up the vexing point of just how substantial the FedEx Cup may be. A lot of firms are locked in on extended contracts, but as those expire, will there be new participants, or renewals? Will the economy have taken a progressive turn that restores involvement among existing sponsors?

Various tournaments on both the PGA and LPGA Tours have felt the pinch, and tournaments as steeped in history and tradition as the Byron Nelson have switched sponsors. Hewlett-Packard has taken over for EDS in the Nelson, the elegant namesake who passed away two years ago. What about all those corporate sponsors who occupy sky boxes and tented villages—will they be there down the road?

What about all the charities that have benefitted from Tour generosity? And the FedEx itself, how long will it be able to keep up its $35-million pool? There would appear to be threatening waters ahead for Tim Finchem and his Tour World.

PS: I must point out that all these observations haven’t originated with me, but come from those presented by Doug Ferguson, who covers the golf beat for Associated Press. He is the one authority out there that all of us waiting on the fringe can depend on.


Responses

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