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The PGA Tour's 2007 schedule is downsized, rearranged and topped off by a fancy end-of-season extravaganza designed to provide a big bang. We know the Tour's suits got the big bang part right because--bang!--the B.C. Open and the former Greater Hartford Open are dead, and several other events are on life support.
Under the guise of progress the Tour may turn into a serial tournament killer. We still don't know many details about the FedEx Cup, the Tour's glitzy new playoff system, or whether it will deliver any long-term excitement or significance, but one thing is certain: The downside of the Tour's grab to keep the big TV money coming is the equivalent of a death sentence for the tournaments assigned fall dates.
The old GHO, lately known as the Buick Championship, announced last week that autumn won't work. Buick dropped its sponsorship because of the undesirable dates, and the Jaycees, the charitable organization that runs the event, gave the PGA Tour an unprecedented no thanks, saying that they'll look instead to put on an LPGA or Champions tour tournament during the summer. There may be other spikes dropping. The Booz Allen Classic (formerly the Kemper Open) is slated for the fall--or should I say slated for a fall? Others trying to keep on keepin' on are Las Vegas, the Disney, the Texas Open and the Southern Farm Bureau Classic. How many of these events will still be around in 2010? I don't know, but I can guarantee that not all of them will be.
It's sad to see the GHO go. The tournament produced a ton of history, lore and goodwill ($25 million raised for area charities). It started out as the Insurance City Open in 1952, and its early winners included Billy Casper, Arnold Palmer and Sam Snead. Sammy Davis Jr. put his name on the tournament from '73 to '84 as Hartford became a significant Tour stop. Paul Azinger has won twice, once with a dramatic chip-in. Phil Mickelson won back-to-back titles. Need more vaunted victors? How about Greg Norman, Nick Price, Curtis Strange, Lee Trevino and Lanny Wadkins?
Once the event left the sporty Wethersfield Country Club for the wide-open spaces of the TPC of Connecticut (later renamed TPC at River Highlands), the GHO routinely packed in crowds of 60,000-plus a day. So why did such a successful tournament get the bum's rush?
Hartford isn't a major market; nearby Boston is. In 2003 the Tour launched the Deutsche Bank Championship, which takes place in Norton, Mass., over the Labor Day weekend. All the charitable proceeds of the Deutsche Bank go to the Tiger Woods Foundation, and the event is run by IMG, which represents Woods. Guess who has never played in Hartford but hasn't missed a Deutsche Bank?
Bang! You got it.