Entertaining ideas to help ailing Senior Tour

The ailing Senior PGA Tour easily can be fixed. It just needs to think outside the box, or outside the ropes. That’s to say, it needs to create a compelling, festive atmosphere and emphasize it over competition.

In the midst of a necessary initiative to revitalize its over-50 league, the Tour should let fun be its guide. The Senior Tour flourished in the late 1980s and early ’90s when it had a winning blend of entertainment and competition. Successful showmen like Lee Trevino and Chi Chi Rodriguez used to see how many laughs they could get. Now, far too many see how many balls they can hit instead.

In an Oct. 25 meeting with about 35 senior players, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem announced some planned measures, a few to improve interaction with the public. The Tour wants top players at more pro-ams and pre-tournament media days. It also plans to conduct no senior gatherings the same week as the regular Tour’s top five tournaments, re-establish an eligibility category based on Tour victories, and increase live telecasts with some different announcers. Taped shows during the 6-8 p.m. East Coast dinner hour on the hard-to-find CNBC financial cable channel contributed to a ratings decline of between 33 to 50 percent from 2000 on ESPN.

Those alterations will help, but alone they represent a Band-Aid on a gaping gash. So much more is needed, all in the name of merriment aimed at its Baby Boomer market.

The “These Guys Are Good” slogan (shared with the PGA Tour) is off target. The seniors should operate under the cachet of “These Guys Are Fun.” Or “Groovin’ Oldies.” The branding should reflect elements of the Senior Tour at its peak: camaraderie, showmanship, entertainment, interaction, reunion, good-natured ribbing. Competition will be there whether it is emphasized or not, but the atmosphere won’t be.

Present tournaments as can’t-miss “events.” Think Bill Veeck and P.T. Barnum. Think NBA halftime and minor-league baseball promotion. Think party. Think aura of excitement. Think connection. Think golf fetes, not feats. Think Dean Martin.

Hire a band or deejay to play oldies’ hits for dancing in a big tent after every round. Suggest that players and their wives attend. Hold Name-That-Oldie contests. Get Kasey Kasem and Dick Clark involved. Get oldies’ radio stations in each city to participate. Involve more celebrities in pro-ams and have them visit the TV booth. Turn as many tournaments as possible into a Crosby Clambake. Get celebs to host tournaments. Hire Sela Ward and Jill Arrington as roving fairway reporters. Or Bill Murray.

If you don’t give players joke books, then at least hand them a dozen Senior Tour-logoed balls and fine them if they haven’t given all away to spectators before they walk off the 18th green.

Take a page from NASCAR and have the pros conduct post-round autograph and Q&A sessions. Slingshot T-shirts into the gallery. Hand out Advil at the gate. Hold more clinics. Raffle off clubs. Make people want to come out for more than tee shots. Reach out.

“We’ve got a lot of tweaking to do,” said Dave Stockton, Senior Tour player-director. “We have to be a user-friendly tour.”

The Tour recently hired an ad agency executive to focus on marketing and promotion of senior events. Whether that person or someone else, the Tour could use a creative-genius, fix-it person given full reign to pump life into the over-50 scene. Someone who errs on the side that no idea is too inventive. Are Feherty and McCord available?

Years ago, Gary Player said he envisioned the Senior Tour becoming more popular than the PGA Tour. Many agreed with him because the old guys arguably put on a better show and seemed more appreciative. That, of course, was before Tiger Woods left Stanford.

And that was before the Senior Tour grew so fast, created multimillionaires in one year and became ultracompetitive. Now it has gotten to the point that Rodriguez recently was quoted as saying, “We’re dying.”

Competition became the focus after the likes of fierce battlers Jack Nicklaus, Raymond Floyd and Hale Irwin came aboard. Somehow atmosphere suffered. And now there are Q-rating problems. When cigar-chompin’ former club pro Larry Laoretti beat big names at the 1992 U.S. Senior Open, he was a Walter Mitty story. Now, it seems like a Walter Mitty or a Walter Morgan wins most weeks.

The addition of Fuzzy Zoeller and Ben Crenshaw in 2002, Craig Stadler in ’03, Peter Jacobsen in ’04, and Greg Norman and Curtis Strange in ’05 will help provide color, passion and status.

Fortunately, the Tour has no current plans to lower its minimum age requirement to, say, 45 or 48. That would only put more ill-advised emphasis on competing.

After all, the Senior Tour needs Wayne Newton more than it does Wayne Levi.

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