New PGA Tour stop restores shine to once-elite Greenbrier


PGA Tour (75x100)AKRON, Ohio ' One void left by the financial exodus of General Motors from the PGA Tour schedule has been filled, another remains. But at least on Wednesday Tour officials had a measure of good news to counter a series of economic setbacks.
In a widely anticipated move, Tour officials announced the slot on the 2010 schedule that had been held for the last half decade by the Buick Open in Michigan will be filled by a new event at the Greenbrier, the posh West Virginia resort that hosted the 1979 Ryder Cup and 1994 Solheim Cup.
The $6 million Greenbrier Classic will be played July 26-Aug. 1 next year on the resorts famed Old White Course, the first year of a six-year deal.
We knew going into this downturn we were going to have some form of turnover in our schedule, Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. We were delighted to be able to move quickly and not have a vacuum in the schedule.
The Buick Open void, however, was only half of the one/two GM punch the Tour announced on Tuesday. The embattled auto manufacturer also withdrew its title sponsorship of Februarys Buick Invitational in Torrey Pines.
Finchem said Torrey Pines status as a top-tier event should make it easy to find a replacement sponsor, and he also said that negotiations with Buick, which was contracted to sponsor the San Diego and Michigan stops for one more year, are ongoing.
Its possible (Buick could sponsor the 2010 tournament at Torrey Pines), Finchem said. Its equally possible we will get a new sponsor. We just have to wait and see.
During the companys halcyon days on Tour, Buick sponsored four events and had a multi-million dollar endorsement deal with the games top draw ' Woods. The news that the company was ending more than a half century of business was still a topic of conversation on Wednesday among players.
You hate to lose a tournament but to lose someone that has been involved with the Tour for so long . . . its tough, said David Toms, one of four player directors on the Tours Policy Board. Im sure it will happen again. I dont think weve seen the worst of it.
Many observers say the Buick announcement was the latest in a series of paradigm shifts in tournament sponsorships away from traditional strongholds in the auto and financial institutions and into new business areas.
Times are changing, said one tournament director who asked not to be identified. Think back four years ago. How many car sponsors did we have? Ten? Its a sign of the times.
The Buick news has escalated talk about the invent of what observers are calling flex scheduling, which would rotate events around certain dates each year in order to improve the quality of fields.
Finchem said he has had early talks regarding flex scheduling with players and sponsors and said the feedback has been positive. Even Tiger Woods gave the idea early support.
It has worked in the past and theres no reason it wouldnt work in the future, he said.
The earliest flex scheduling could be implemented is 2013 and would likely split the schedule into pods depending on an events historical spot on the calendar. Finchem used the Canadian Open, which has struggled to draw top fields in recent years played the week after the British Open, as an example of how flex scheduling would work.
If youre playing the week after the British Open you are definitely a candidate for flex scheduling, Finchem said.