Now that money-tossing is about to end as the lumber company pulls out of pro golf after laying out tens of millions of dollars to land and run a tournament that's moving to a prime tour date next June.
The 84 Lumber Classic that starts Thursday at the Nemacolin Woodlands resort's Mystic Rock course will be the fourth and last, replaced next year by the St. Paul Travelers Championship in Hartford.
With 84 Lumber packing its money bags and saying goodbye, the Pittsburgh area must once again be content with seeing only occasional glimpses of top-tier pro golf. There is no tournament with PGA TOUR golfers scheduled in the region beyond next year's U.S. Open at Oakmont.
It's obvious who will be the poorer for 84 Lumber's pullout: the golfers who welcomed coming to rural Pennsylvania each September to be lavished with the kind of Hollywood star treatment that even the big names rarely receive elsewhere.
'Not having the tournament here anymore is sad,' said John Daly, the unofficial tournament host whose endorsement deal with 84 is worth nearly $1 million per year.
Daly is so close to 84 Lumber founder Joe Hardy that he calls him 'Dad,' and he isn't the only golfer with ties to Hardy, who built the 7,511-yard Mystic Rock course about 10 years ago with the idea of someday playing host to a PGA TOUR event.
Teen star Michelle Wie, playing against the men again this week with a sponsor's exemption, regularly visits Nemacolin Woodlands and once had Thanksgiving dinner there with Hardy and daughter Maggie Hardy Magerko, the lumber company's top executive.
Pat Perez, set to play in his fourth 84 Lumber Classic, said many of the PGA TOUR players are very upset that the tournament will no longer be held.
No wonder, as Hardy's spending habits quickly became legendary among the golfers. He gave expensive presents to some of the top players and their families several times a year, chartered a private jet to fly them to a European tournament two years ago and built a $66 million on-course lodge with full butler service for them.
Hardy also poured millions of dollars into near-annual redesigns of Mystic Rock to make it tougher after a mostly no-name field shot numerous rounds in the mid-to-low 60s in 2003.
All that spending added up to annual losses for the tournament despite adequate attendance. And when 84 Lumber began questioning whether it was worth an estimated $100 million to run a summertime tournament for the next six years, the PGA TOUR awarded 84 Lumber's 2007 dates to Hartford without giving any warning beforehand.
84 Lumber's surprise exit from PGA TOUR golf coincided with the privately held company's decision last spring to close 67 stores in 12 states as part of a retrenching in which the company expects to open 125 new stores in fast-growth areas. Unlike the consumer-oriented Lowe's or Home Depot, 84 Lumber sells primarily to private contractors and does little advertising outside of the tournament.
The final 84 Lumber Classic has attracted few marquee players. Only six of the top 25 money winners are entered in the $4.6 million tournament, led by No. 5 Vijay Singh, the 2004 champion, and No. 9 David Toms.
Five members of the U.S. Ryder Cup team will polish their games for next week's matches in Ireland: Chad Campbell, Chris DiMarco, Toms, Scott Verplank and Brett Wetterich.
Toms returns after being stricken by a heart disorder during the first round last year. He was taken off the course on a stretcher and was later flown to Pittsburgh to be treated for a rapid heartbeat, a condition for which he later underwent surgery.
The defending champion is Jason Gore, who won while playing with a sponsor's exemption after winning three weeks in a row on the Nationwide Tour. Gore is 121st on the current money list.