2003: Newsmakers - New name, outlook as Nationwide debuts

When Bill Calfee meets with Nationwide Tour players in two weeks at the Clearwater Classic in New Zealand, his will be a message of growth and promise.

Calfee and Co. have a 2003 lineup that features a new umbrella sponsor (Nationwide), a record total purse ($14.5 million) and two more events (30) than the circuit had in 2002.

And, for the first time in the tour’s 13-year history, it didn’t lose a single event from the previous season.

Calfee credits an increasingly cost-conscious corporate environment as well as an emphasis on finding the right markets for much of the Nationwide (formerly Buy.com) Tour’s success.

While most communities don’t have deep enough pockets to play host to a PGA Tour or even a Champions Tour event, a Nationwide tournament – with title sponsorship averaging about $350,000 – is pro golf’s version of a blue-light bargain even in a bear market economy.

“It’s been a tough economic environment, and we’ve felt that,” said Calfee, the tour’s chief of operations. “Fortunately for us, our pricing is much lower and we’ve been able to find a niche.”

Most of the circuit’s events – such as its two first-year tournaments in Calgary, Alberta, and Chattanooga, Tenn. – are in markets where there are few sports entertainment options and strong community support.

“In the bigger markets we’re a small fish, but in the right market we can be a big fish,” Calfee said.

The five-year Nationwide deal gives the tour the kind of financial stability that was missing during the turbulent Buy.com era, which ended two years early because of the Internet retailer’s financial troubles.

The Nationwide agreement also gives Calfee and his tournament organizers the freedom to sell title sponsorships for each event. Nineteen tournaments, nearly twice as many as in 2002, have sold title sponsorships this season, and Calfee foresees a day when almost all of the tour’s events will have title sponsors.

“(Title sponsorship) gives us an opportunity to grow the events locally, and it’s the best tool tournament organizers have,” Calfee said.

The circuit also received a boost this year when it gained five PGA Tour cards, giving full exemptions to the top 20 money winners.

“I think it’s great (the additional exemptions), but I was a little disappointed it didn’t go to 25 (PGA Tour cards) this year,” Calfee said. “The numbers are going to continue to show the top graduates from our tour perform well on the PGA Tour.”

When the 2003 season begins Feb. 27 at the season-opening Jacob’s Creek Open Championship, the competition for those 20 cards promises to be heated. Tentatively scheduled to make the trip Down Under are a few proven PGA Tour players – such as Jim McGovern, Tommy Armour III, Tommy Tolles and Scott Gump – as well as up-and-comers such as former Clemson All-American Lucas Glover, mini-tour standout Josh Broadaway and Jeff Klauk, the 2000 NCAA Division II Player of the Year who was No. 22 in Nationwide earnings last season.

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