Pleasant valley Country Club is located in the heart of Sutton, Mass., a modest, blue-collar town 15 minutes from Worcester, a half hour from Providence, and a world away from commissioner Tim Finchem's image of a PGA Tour stop in the 21st century.
Sutton is as exotic as an auto-parts store. It has 8,200 residents, one traffic light, three gas stations and 10 full-time cops. Asked what's the most frequent complaint from citizens, a member of the Sutton P.D. says, "Loose cows." The Pleasant View Motor Lodge (one bed $48; two beds $50) is the only hotel in town and has never been confused with the Four Seasons, so most of the pros stay in Providence. That was one of the problems facing Pleasant Valley as its 32-year affiliation with the Tour came to a bitter end with last week's CVS Charity Classic: Too much May-berry, not enough Turnberry. "I know this sounds ridiculous," says Brad Faxon, a 14-year Tour veteran who grew up in Barrington, R.I., "but guys don't like to drive 45 minutes to their hotel. Let's face it, the guys out here, we're spoiled."
More so each year. In 1999 the Tour will add three glamour events, the World Golf Championships, each offering a $5 million purse. A four-year TV contract also begins in 1999, and prize money is rising faster than shares in Pfizer. Life is good for the Tour, and as a consequence, Tour life is over for Pleasant Valley. Steve Pate won the final CVS Charity Classic by a stroke over Scott Hoch and Bradley Hughes. After Pate collected his check for $270,000—the total purse was $1.5 million, smallest on the circuit behind the $1.2 million Deposit Guaranty Classic in Madison, Miss.—the PGA Tour pulled up stakes and pulled out of Sutton for good. Next year the LPGA will move to Pleasant Valley, and the Canon Greater Hartford Open will become the PGA Tour's only stop in New England.
To no one's surprise, Ted Mingolla, the feisty general chairman of the Pleasant Valley tournament, didn't let the Tour leave without a fight. "It's a joke," he says. "We didn't do anything to deserve this. The Tour told me they were moving to Seattle, and that's all there is to it. Then Finchem called and said he knew they were treating us unfairly, but there's no way around it. They offered a bunch of lame excuses, but everyone knows they just want to create openings for those World events."
Mingolla's father, Cuz, founded the tournament in 1965, and his family has run it ever since (Ted's son Stephen was the last tournament director), which was never an easy ride. The tournament struggled through 12 names and eight sponsors, not including the Mingollas themselves, who, says Ted, have kicked in their own money to keep the tournament afloat. Some high-profile players, such as Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman, came to Pleasant Valley and never returned.
The old-style dedication of the Mingollas engendered a fierce loyalty in a small core of name players who did return most years—Faxon, Paul Azinger, Peter Jacobsen and Fuzzy Zoeller, among others—but the tournament was ultimately viewed as an antiquated, small-town event that didn't fit the Tour's global motif. In an increasingly corporate world, Pleasant Valley was seen as a mom-and-pop operation, and for good reason: That's exactly what it was.
"We're making a big mistake," says John Cook, who won at Pleasant Valley in '96 and finished 15th last week. "We've got a good tournament here, on a good course with a great sponsor. We should not be pulling out. I hear people say, 'What's Sutton, Massachusetts?' Well, what's Augusta, Georgia? It's a small town. So what?"
Cook says the attitude of today's top players, awash in money and opportunities, is one of the factors that helped kill off Pleasant Valley. "It's laughable," he says. "You see guys come in and complain about their free car. It's like, 'Hey, how come he got a Park Avenue and I only got a LeSabre?' "
Tom Ryan, president and CEO of CVS, the drugstore chain that teamed up with Pleasant Valley in '96, says his company was willing to continue as title sponsor into the next century, gradually raising CVS's contribution to $3 million a year, but he didn't want to hold the tournament when the Tour proposed, the week before the British Open, which makes it difficult to lure the best players. As it was, last week just three of the top 25 on the money list (Jim Furyk, Hoch and Cook) teed it up in Sutton.
The only alternative dates the Tour offered were Aug. 26-29, opposite the World Series of Golf, in Akron, which is to be renamed the NEC Invitational next year and become one of the World tour events. Nobody thinks competing against a World event will be easy. If it was, Aug. 26-29 on the '99 schedule would not be occupied by TBA. Ryan requested a week in September, but Finchem's dance card was full. "They said they couldn't do it, and we walked away," says Ryan, who hastens to add, "It's hard for me to complain about being a small fish getting eaten up by a big fish. I mean, we buy neighborhood drugstores at a rate of about one a day. It's business."