Tour seeks player help for second-tier events

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Tiger Woods teeing it up at the Bob Hope Classic? It’s never happened before, but Woods could one day be mandated to play the Palm Springs-area pro-am, or other PGA Tour events he traditionally bypasses.

When the PGA Tour’s Player Advisory Council meets June 1 at the Memorial, among the items that will be discussed is a way to get the Tour’s top stars to play more often, and in events that have struggled recently to attract big names.

The call for top players to play more PGA Tour events has grown louder because the Tour is facing two difficult tasks:

• It must renew sponsorships and/or gain new sponsors during a recession;

• With ratings lagging, it will have to negotiate a new television contract in the near future. The Tour’s contract with NBC and CBS expires in 2012.

The fact that the Tour is introducing this proposal to the PAC would seem to signify that it recognizes the need for increased player participation. An e-mail message from Golfweek to the Tour seeking comment was not immediately returned.

“Having the players play more events is going to be good for the PGA Tour, period,” said Paul Goydos, a member of the PAC. “The hard thing is figuring out how to do it without pushing too hard. We are independent contractors. That’s a difficult problem to get around.”

The concept that will be presented at the PAC meeting is called “Designated Tournaments,’’ according to a memo sent to players and agents, a copy of which was obtained by Golfweek. When questioned about the initiatives outlined in the memo, Goydos told Golfweek that the concept would involve designating a handful of events each year and mandating that top players play in at least one of those targeted events.

photo

Tom Watson celebrates after winning the 1977 British Open at Turnberry – “The Duel in the Sun” – by one shot over Jack Nicklaus.

For example, this proposal may mandate that the top 50 players on the PGA Tour money list play at least one of five selected events, likely events that have struggled to attract top-ranked players. The “designated’’ events would change each year.

“ ‘Designated Tournaments’ . . . is designed to help with strength of field at a number of events,” Rick George, PGA Tour executive vice president and chief of operations, wrote in that memo.

A similar rule was in place for several years in the 1970s. The week after their famed “Duel in the Sun’’ showdown at the 1977 British Open, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson played the Pleasant Valley Classic. The Sutton, Mass., event was one of that year’s “designated’’ events.

Goydos said discussions are “preliminary.” Among the logistics that would need to be determined before this idea becomes policy are how many, and which, events would be “designated’’ each year and which players must play in them. It must be determined what rating system would be used (i.e. the Official World Golf Ranking, PGA Tour money list, FedEx Cup points list), and how many players from that list would have to play in the events.

“I think it’d be tough to even get it implemented for ’11, but it’s a starting point of a conversation,” Goydos said. “. . . It needs to be done correctly, but I would think, I would hope that the players would be in favor of it.

“We’re in a competitive business, and there are only so many dollars out there for sponsors to spend money on. The more value that we can give to our sponsors, the better off we’re going to be.”

Top players may be more willing to accept the “Designated Tournaments’’ rule over other proposals because it would not force them to radically alter their schedule or increase the number of weeks they play. The Tour mandates that its members play 15 events annually of their choosing. That minimum fills quickly for Tour stars, with four majors, three World Golf Championship events and four playoff tournaments.

Other items on the agenda for the upcoming PAC meeting:

• Discussion of ideas introduced at a meeting at the Verizon Heritage between the PAC and television executives. The meeting was first held to discuss ways to improve TV broadcasts.

• The Official World Golf Ranking, at the request of many PAC members. PGA Tour players have expressed concerns in the past about the number of points awarded to international events, and the ability of foreign events to attract strong fields – and thus reward more OWGR points – through the use of appearance fees.

• Eligibility for the season-opening SBS Championship and AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. The SBS has struggled in recent years to attract Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.

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