Saturday, April 21, 2018

Lack of sponsor might be end of Tampa Bay Champions Tour golf tournament

After 25 years, Tampa Bay's Champions Tour event appears to be on life support.

The tournament, which started as the GTE Classic in 1988 and was best known as the Outback Steakhouse Pro Am, has not secured a title sponsor for the 2013 season. Because of that, all full- and part-time staff were let go on Sept. 1.

"We had to shut the doors for now,'' said tournament director Amy Hawk, who will stay on in case a sponsor is found. "It didn't make any sense keeping a staff when there was no revenue coming in. We have some significant irons in the fire, but we've heard that before. We're just going to keep our fingers crossed and hope that something gets done.''

The next season's schedule is usually finalized by mid November. If a title sponsor is not found by then, the mid April date will be vacant. Last year, even before finding a sponsor at the last minute, the tournament would have been partly funded by the Champions Tour.

That's not an option in 2013.

"Right now, if you asked the Champions Tour, we're not on the schedule for 2013,'' Hawk said.

While Hawk wouldn't give an exact figure, a title sponsorship for a Champions event is about half the cost of a PGA Tour event. Transitions Optical reportedly paid about $7 million per year to sponsor the PGA tournament at Innisbrook.

This is not the first time the tournament has sought new sponsorship. GTE sponsored it until 2000. Verizon took over from 2001-03. Outback Steakhouse was the title sponsor since 2004 before becoming a secondary sponsor last year. Encompass Insurance stepped up in February of 2012 to be a title sponsor for one tournament.

Per an agreement with the Champions Tour, Encompass left to become a title sponsor for a new 2013 tournament in Chicago.

The senior tour has held a tournament at TPC Tampa Bay in Lutz for 20 consecutive years, second longest on tour. It became a Pro-Am event when Outback took over.

Aside from some of the biggest names on the 50-and-over tour, the tournament also drew celebrities such as Kevin Costner, Bill Murray, Mark Wahlberg, Michael J. Fox and George Lopez. It has donated more than $9 million to local charities since 1988.

Michael Allen won this year's event.

"This was a very difficult task,'' Tampa Bay Pro-Am Foundation co-chairman Bob Basham said in a statement. "This staff's dedication and creativity built this long-standing event and helped make it one of the premier stops on the Champions Tour."

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