Las Vegas PGA Tour stop looks to future


Bye, bye, bye Justin.

With one eye fixed on the present and the other on the future, Las Vegas' PGA Tour stop is undergoing a transitional phase as it shifts from the end of the season to the beginning and has the Shriners Hospitals for Children go it alone without Justin Timberlake hosting the event.

A year from now, the tournament, which will be known as the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, will be part of the Tour's FedEx Cup series and will count toward the playoffs in 2014. Currently, the event is part of the Fall Series with no points on the line.

To facilitate the switch, the Shriners committed an additional five years to the event at TPC Summerlin, and tournament chairman Raoul Frevel said it will change the entire dynamic of the tournament.

"We've been trying to get in that for a long time," Frevel said. "I think we're going to see stronger fields and more exposure for our event."

Earlier this summer, about 300 invitations were sent to Tour players that contained a personal message from a Shriners Hospital patient, with the theme being "Join The Celebration." It was intended to strike an emotional chord while bringing awareness to the forthcoming change.

It might have already paid off. Vijay Singh, who hasn't played Las Vegas in years, accepted to play this year and is likely on board for 2013, and there are other name players doing likewise.

"Everyone has their own reasons for deciding to play," tournament director Adam Sperling said Sunday. "But there's no question when the players received those invitations in the mail, they took a second to pause and look at them. The message from these kids is so powerful."

Getting the primary focus on the hospitals and the patients they serve was the primary reason the Shriners and Timberlake have decided to part ways following Sunday's final round.

While Timberlake did fulfill his obligations to the tournament and helped raise several million dollars through a Saturday concert his first four years, the fact is the pop star and original member of N'Sync wasn't able to generate greater interest in the tournament, and his star power wasn't enough to lure bigger-name players to the event on a consistent basis.

"We're a world-class organization," Frevel said. "At the time we got involved with golf, we were told by the Tour we needed a big name, and that's how our relationship with Justin came about.

"Justin's a wonderful person. But we tried everything we could to get him more involved with our kids and the hospitals. But it seemed that when the TV cameras weren't on, he disappeared."

Sperling said despite the perception that Timberlake didn't do more to help grow the tournament, he believes Timberlake's presence did stabilize the event and allow it to take the next logical step.

"The future of pro golf here in Las Vegas wasn't very secure when Justin and the Shriners came in five years ago," Sperling said. "Justin added a level of cache and star power in a city that understands the value of that."

There's still this year's tournament to play, and with good weather and a strong field boosted by Singh, U.S. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III and Sean O'Hair, TPC Summerlin will be buzzing when play gets under way at 7 a.m. Thursday.

"We've had great early response from the community and our sponsors," Sperling said. "In our first three days, we'll have had five events that tie back to the local community. And that's the key to this tournament as we move forward. We have to get the community involved and give back, as well as support the great work the Shriners do. We're trying to build this event for the community, regardless of who the host is."

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

 

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