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PGA Tour to back seniors

Almost since its inception in 1988, the Verizon Classic has enjoyed its status as one of the top events on the Senior PGA Tour.

But with a new, more glamorous PGA Tour event coming to the area in 2003, Verizon Classic officials wonder: Is there room for two in town?

Not wanting to take any chances, the Verizon Classic received some financial guarantees from the PGA Tour in case the new Buick Championship at the Westin Innisbrook Resort cuts into the Verizon Classic's bottom line.

"Tampa is not a big market," said Kris Kilgard, tournament director for the Verizon Classic. "Look what happened in Dallas. Look what happened in Atlanta. (Both cities lost senior events but host regular tour events.) Who do you think gets squeezed? We asked the tour for some loyalty.

"When the senior tour was just getting going in the 1980s, the GTE Classic (now Verizon) came on board. And now they're doing something that could significantly affect this event. We got confirmation that this tournament will not be affected in any way and that the senior tour will remain in Tampa."

The PGA Tour's Tampa Bay Classic, now opposite the American Express Invitational in September, will get its own date preceding the Tour Championship beginning in 2003, according to tournament director Gerald Goodman. Final approval from the PGA Tour Policy Board still is needed, but it then would be named the Buick Championship.

The PGA Tour, in essence, has guaranteed that the Verizon Classic will give no less than its five-year average amount to charity each year, regardless of how much is raised, according to Kilgard and Hollis Cavner, president of Pro Link Sports, a marketing company that runs the Verizon Classic. If there is a shortfall, the tour will make up the difference starting in 2003. A 3 percent increase will be guaranteed after that.

"The Verizon Classic has been a good tournament," said Jack White, director of tournament business affairs for the Senior PGA Tour. "We know that (with the new PGA Tour event) there is a possibility that it may hurt them. If it does, we've agreed to work with them.

"We don't think it's going to be an issue. We think it's going to continue to do as well as it's done. Kris Kilgard and Pro Link Sports do a tremendous job. They are not going to sit on their laurels and just take the tour's money. We're betting they're going to continue to do a great job."

Although the regular tour event will be played the last week of October and the senior event is played in February, both tournaments draw from the same pool of local corporate support, Cavner said.

"Does it make us happy? Not really," Cavner said. "But it's something we'll work out. People have put a lot of time and effort into building up the tournament, and we want to make sure that continues. We don't want to fall off. We want to continue to grow.

"The tour has guaranteed us in writing that that is the case. They have put some protection in place for us. The charities we support aren't going to take a hit. The tour has been very good to work with on this."

After this year's tournament at the TPC of Tampa Bay, the Verizon Classic announced it was giving $369,305 to Tampa Bay Reads. Since 1988, the tournament has given more than $4.5-million to local charities.

An average of charitable contributions from the last five years will be used to determine the minimum contribution, Cavner said. That is approximately $446,000.

"There's many, many markets around the country that have multiple events and I think we can all get along," Goodman said. "The Verizon Classic has been very successful. We've been around for almost 25 years (first as the JCPenney Classic). They've been here for 12. And we've gotten along. They do a great job. There's no reason why we can't both exist."

Other locations around the country, such as Miami, Jacksonville, Phoenix, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas and Detroit, support regular and Senior PGA Tour events. But Atlanta and Dallas have lost senior events recently while keeping regular tour events.

"Something did come out of this that's very good," Cavner said. "This ensures the success of the senior tour in Tampa for a long time. I think we negotiated a pretty good agreement. We always thought we could compete, but now we have a fallback that's about as good as we can get."