I hear the train a comin'
It's rollin' round the bend
And I ain't seen the sunshine since I don't know when,
I'm stuck in Folsom prison, and time keeps draggin' on
But that train keeps a rollin' on down to San Antone.
– Folsom Prison Blues, Johnny Cash
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Somewhere in the distance late Saturday afternoon a train whistle interrupted the awkward silence on the Magnolia Course’s 18th green followed by the thought that Cash’s famous missive is an apropos anthem for the season’s final official PGA Tour stop.
But this wasn’t about all of the cash-crunched Tour players scrambling for a payday reprieve that would deliver them from the clutches of Q-School, although Folsom would be the metaphorical equivalent to the Fall Classic for play-for-pay types, so much as it was an ominous reminder that this Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic could be the last.
After 41 years at the Magic Kingdom it seems the most magical place on earth may have finally exhausted its supply of rabbits to pull from the top hat. The Children’s Miracle Network, which has sponsored the event since 2007, is stepping down at the end of this week’s tournament and although tournament officials have time to scare up a new title that didn’t seem likely as players finished their third rounds.
“I’m disappointed to see it leave to be honest with you,” said Ryan Palmer, whose first Tour victory came in 2004 at Disney. “I honestly think it would have been a better field next year being part of the FedEx Cup. I don’t know if it’s the sponsor or Disney, but it would have gotten better being part of the FedEx Cup, for sure.”
Ironically, it is the move to the FedEx Cup portion of the schedule that may be the haymaker that ultimately drops Disney from the Tour docket.
The Tour transitions to a split-calendar schedule beginning next season with the Fall Series events shifting to the start of the 2013-14 season. As part of the transition the fall events will have to increase their purses to $6 million. For an event that has had four sponsors since 1985 that would be a $1.3 million bump which, together with the lost cachet of not being the season ender any longer, is akin to selling ice to Eskimos.
Along with the economics of scale, Disney would also face a suddenly crowded dance card as it attempts to slide into the fall portion of the 2013-14 schedule.
According to a “tentative” schedule obtained by GolfChannel.com last month the Tour Championship ends the 2013 season on Sept. 22, followed by the Presidents Cup the first week of October. The new season begins with the Frys.com Open (Oct. 10-13), the Las Vegas stop (Oct. 17-20), WGC-HSBC Champions (Oct. 24-27) and CIMB Classic (Oct. 31-Nov. 3) in Asia, McGladrey Classic (Nov. 7-10) and Mayakoba Golf Classic (No. 14-17).
In theory Disney could be played Nov. 21-24, although it hasn’t been held that late since 1973 and that date would run the event dangerously close to Thanksgiving which will be Nov. 28 next year. Nor are there many options in December, with Tiger Woods’ unofficial event the first week of December followed by the Franklin Templeton Shootout in south Florida.
Numerous requests from Golf Channel for comment from Disney tournament director Kevin Weickel were denied, but the potential hole left by the Magic Kingdom’s departure from the schedule spoke volumes.
“It’s going to be hardest on the kids,” said Davis Love III, whose 20th and last Tour victory came at Disney in 2008. “You have an entire generation of kids who grew up coming here. It’s tough to think events like Hilton Head (RBC Heritage) and Disney could go away, but it’s a tough economy. It kind of shows you what a good job the Tour has done keeping events.”
In a lot of ways the Tour grew up at Disney. Love first played the event in 1986, the year Raymond Floyd won in a playoff, and he has missed the central Florida stop just seven times in his career. Along the way the event has produced a Hall of Fame list of champions that connects generations from Jack Nicklaus (1971, ’72, ’73) to Tiger Woods (1996, ’99).
That pedigree, however, means little unless officials can conjure some magic and save Disney from economic Darwinism.
If you listened hard on Saturday you could hear a train whistle echoing across the cool air from one of Disney’s theme parks and maybe even Cash’s signature baritone offering a forlorn sendoff for the Tour staple, “. . . but those people keep a movin’ and that’s what tortures me.”