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Sunday, May 31, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports

A Classic One-Liner Would Be For City To Meet Bottom Line

By John Blanchette The Spokesman-Re

Ken Still spent 25 years on the PGA Tour and put in another dozen on the Senior PGA Tour.

“Now I’m on the detour,” he joked to Monday’s Pro Classic gallery.

Hey, pal, we can read a map.

One more time, Still and a shoal of his fellow golf ancients joined us off the beaten track - The Creek at Qualchan this year - for a day of slick shot-making and quick shot-taking. Medalist in the latter competition may have been J.C. Snead, who noted that Bunky Henry’s home in Stuart, Fla., isn’t far from the Hobe Sound compound where Greg Norman fatefully entertained our duffer-in-chief last March.

“You know they’ve renamed Hobe Sound,” Snead reported. “It’s now Clinton Falls.”

Yes, the good times continue to roll at the Pro Classic, which celebrated its fourth birthday with the same ambition it had at birth: to be a grown-up by the time it’s school-age.

That is to say, a real, live Senior Tour stop.

It always has an obligatory endorsement from its winner - Butch Baird this time.

“This has to be one of the very best of all the outings we do,” he said. “I hope in the near one or two years we get to come out here with all the guys and have a real event of 54 holes. If we have any input, we’ll have one here.”

Input the Seniors have.

The question remains whether Spokane has the market, the money and the motivation to make it happen.

In that regard, Hal Seward was a far more important guest at Qualchan Monday than even Lee Trevino, who was probably responsible for selling 75 percent of the 4,000 tickets.

Seward is a PGA vice president for business affairs - a spy, if you will, from the home office, though his counsel was also available to Pro Classic director Toby Steward.

“He cut to the chase,” Steward said. “He let us know that the bottom line was, well, the bottom line.”

And the more attractive that bottom line, the more attentive the PGA will be.

“I don’t know that much about this market,” said Seward, careful not to either overinflate or puncture any aspirations. “It would be unfair for me to evaluate whether they could do it. If they put a good proposal together, we would evaluate it on its merits. We would never say that we’d never go to a particular market.

“It is a smaller market. Seattle, just because of its population base and location, is going to be a preferred market. But we’ll always listen.”

In this case, talk is not cheap.

According to Seward, any new tournament expecting to gain Senior Tour approval needs $1.2 million to $1.5 million in purse money alone “and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.” The top tournaments have an operating budget of up to 2-1/2 times that.

Title sponsors, Seward said, cover anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of that budget.

Having solved the logistical problems in birthing the Pro Classic, Steward thinks he can solve the math, as well.

“There are a couple sponsors interested in it and could do it,” he said. “Companies spend a million dollars on a 30-second spot during the Super Bowl. Of course, there aren’t that many around Spokane. But it only takes one.”

As sunny as he is, Steward is realistic about the conservative, show-me side of Spokane, where a million dollars is still considered a lot of money.

He may, however, have to rethink his approach when he says “I don’t think we have a minimum or maximum timetable on making this happen.”

For the PGA’s visiting dignitary acknowledged that his bosses are eager to have a tournament presence back in the Northwest. He also reminded us that a Tournament Players Course is being constructed outside of Seattle.

“When that comes on line, we’ll probably have an event in Seattle,” he said. “And if I had to give you an answer, I’d say we’d be targeting a Senior event.”

Never mind that a Senior event went belly-up in Seattle after GTE pulled out as a title sponsor two years ago. Senior events are cheaper to stage than regular PGA Tour events, and there are no openings on the latter, anyway.

“Usually, when we build a TPC, we do it with the idea that we will take a tournament there,” Seward said. “We take an active part in putting together a sponsorship group and finding a suitable charity.”

Now, you can place your bets on an earnest soul trying to drum up $3 million worth of sponsorship in Spokane - or on the PGA putting the touch on the corporate gotrocks of Seattle.

And, needless to say, there will not be two Tour events in Washington.

“We’re growing,” said Seward. “And unfortunately, we’re outgrowing some markets. I know. I spent 11 years as a tournament director before I came to work for the PGA Tour and we outgrew my market, Albuquerque. It just didn’t have the economic base to continue to grow and offer the purses necessary.”

It’s the difference in being on the Tour, and being on the detour.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review

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