LUTZ — Since 1988, when the Seniors Tour came to Tampa Palms Golf and Country Club, there has been an event in the Tampa Bay area for the 50-and-older pros.
The event has changed names a few times and switched to the TPC Tampa Bay course in 1992, but every year the senior circuit has stopped in the area.
It doesn't look as if that is going to change any time soon.
This is the last year of Outback's contract as title sponsor of the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am, which is being played this week. It has not been a good few years for most businesses, especially chain restaurants. But all signs point to Outback staying on board for at least the next two years.
"We are extremely optimistic that there will be a tournament here in 2011 and beyond," said tournament director Amy Hawk, who was brought on board in 2004 when Outback took over title sponsorship. "We have had good conversations with Outback and other sponsors, and they have every intention of keeping the tournament here in Tampa as long as they can."
Hawk said an announcement likely will come in the next 30 days. Outback might remain as the title sponsor, she said, or it could share title sponsorship with another company.
Outback Steakhouse co-founder and chief operating officer Chris Sullivan did not return calls for comment, but Hawk said he has echoed her sentiment about keeping the Champions Tour in the bay area.
The 30-day window after the tournament will give organizers plenty of time to set up the 2011 event, unlike in 2004 when Outback took over for Verizon as title sponsor only four months before the tournament's start. That left little time to get the course ready and secure other sponsors.
"It takes 11 months to set up a tournament," Hawk said.
And it takes $2 million to $4 million to be the title sponsor. Several minor sponsors have signs or booths throughout the course, which range from $10,000 to $40,000. The purse for this year's tournament is $1.7 million, same as the past two years.
Like last year, there are 26 Champions Tour tournaments in 2010. The Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am got a big boost in 2008 when the tournament moved from February to April. The February date meant unpredictable weather and fewer hours of sunlight. The April date is more coveted because of better weather and its spot right after the Masters, when people tend to pay more attention to golf.
The pro-am format is unique on the Champions Tour. A professional is paired with an amateur partner, in some cases a celebrity. The tournament is modeled after the Pebble Beach Pro-Am in California, which Sullivan played in and got the idea to bring the format to Lutz.
Hawk said the tournament will continue to use the pro-am format. Some of the celebrities at this year's event include Michael J. Fox, Vince Gill, George Lopez and Emmitt Smith.
Because of the format, the tournament draws a wide variety of fans.
"It's taken the tournament to a whole new level," Hawk said. "Our demographic has changed dramatically. We get more of the casual golf fans or fans who just want to come see the celebrities."