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Sitting pretty with sponsorship of PGA Tour tournament at Innisbrook

As tournament director of the Transitions Championship, part of Gerald Goodman's job is traveling to various PGA Tour sites to recruit players for his March tournament. This week, Goodman was in Akron, Ohio, for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

And he had a little more bounce in his step.

Unlike some fellow tournament directors, Goodman runs a tournament with a stable corporate sponsor. Transitions Optical is signed as the title sponsor through 2012. In a struggling economic climate, Goodman can sell stability.

"It matters very much,'' Goodman said from Akron. "The players know all about what's going on. They hear about our sponsor, how well the tournament was run, how well the course (Innisbrook) played, and they are interested. To keep a sponsor in this day and age is very important.''

The loss of Buick was a big hit, but not necessarily a surprise. The auto dealer ended more than 50 years of PGA sponsorship Tuesday when it pulled out of tournaments in Michigan and California because of the court-ordered restructuring of parent General Motors.

Buick was the oldest continuous corporate sponsor on the PGA Tour and once had its name on four tournaments — the Buick Classic in New York, the Buick Challenge in Georgia, the Buick Open and the Buick Invitational. It also took over the Buick Championship in Connecticut for three years after its Georgia event folded.

The Greenbrier in West Virginia will replace the Buick next year.

The tour has lost four title sponsors this year — Buick's events, U.S. Bank in Milwaukee and Stanford Financial in Memphis, which was played in June without a sponsor.

At least 10 other tournaments have title sponsorships that expire after 2010.

The PGA Tour isn't the only professional tour forced to make changes. The LPGA has lost so many sponsors that its players recently forced the resignation of commissioner Carolyn Bivens. And the European Tour recently cut 25 percent of its purse money, from $20 million to $15 million, and its season-ending Race to Dubai tournament cut its money from $10 million to $7.5 million.

Been there, done that

Goodman has been the tournament director at Innisbrook since 1995. He knows what some of the tournament directors are going through, trying to find a title sponsor in a down economic climate.

"I'm now the envy of my fellow tournament directors,'' Goodman said. "But there is a niche out there. Companies still have to advertise and where they do it is very important. To some companies, the golf fan is still very desirable.''

While things seem dire, there is hope for some of the PGA tournaments that have lost sponsors. Tom Wornham, president of the Century Club of San Diego, which runs the former Buick tournament, told the Associated Press he was optimistic about finding a title sponsor.

"We are 100 percent confident that we'll have a new title sponsor in place for the January 2010 golf tournament," Wornham said. "We've got five or six great (corporate) names we're talking to, all of which you'd recognize.''

Then there is the LPGA

If things are shaky on the PGA Tour, they are in shambles on the LPGA Tour. The women have only 10 title sponsor contracts signed for the 2010 season, down from 34 in '08. Seven tournaments have disappeared from the schedule since 2007, and all three of the Hawaiian tournaments are gone.

Mainly because of that, as well as some other gaffes, Bivens resigned July 13 and was replaced on an interim basis by Marsha Evans.

While the Tampa Bay area doesn't have an LPGA event, it did recently secure an LPGA Legends tournament for Nov. 20-22. The $300,000 event will feature players over 45 years old and will be played at Innisbrook's Island Course.

Tampa Bay represented

With Buick out as a sponsor, the PGA will not have an event in Michigan. But in this area, at least for now, professional golf is well represented. The PGA Tour swings by in March, the Champions Tour comes through in April (Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am) and the new LPGA Legends are here in November.

Transitions Optical president Brett Craig said during the 2009 tournament he thinks his company will be able to weather these lean years.

"The industry is in fairly good shape,'' Craig said during the 2009 Transitions Championship. "Granted, it's still facing the same headwinds that everyone is facing economically. But there aren't any companies in the optical product industry that are facing the dire straits that we are seeing in the financial industry or the automobile industry.''

Having a secure title sponsor makes Goodman's job much easier.

"We're very fortunate in Tampa Bay to have an event like this,'' Goodman said. "I can sympathize with what the other tournaments directors are going through. I've gone through it.''

Information from Times wires was used in this report.

Sitting pretty with sponsorship of PGA Tour tournament at Innisbrook 08/05/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 5, 2009 9:17pm]
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