Shriners tourney director sees boost from inclusion in FedEx Cup chase

Gary Dunwoody admits he missed being chairman of the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

Not that he’s a golfer and missed rubbing elbows with the stars of the PGA Tour. That’s not his style anyway. What the 73-year-old North Little Rock, Ark., resident really missed was the energy at TPC Summerlin the week of the tournament, the interaction with his fellow Shriners and the legions of volunteers who make the tournament run smoothly.

Most of all, he missed taking a very active role in helping the event be a success so the children the cause serves would benefit.

“I believe in this tournament and I believe in this city,” Dunwoody said Thursday on a visit to TPC Summerlin where he is back as tournament chairman as preparations continue for the transition from the Fall Series to the FedEx Cup schedule in October. “Vegas is used to having the best and if you give them the best, they’ll support it. I want to give this city the best golf tournament possible and I believe we’re heading in the right direction toward that.”

Dunwoody had spent three years as chairman before ceding to Raoul Frevel in 2012 on the recommendation of the Shriners’ imperial potentate, who decides who chairs golf tournament. With a new administration and board taking office in July, Dunwoody was asked to return as chairman, and he has been on the job since April.

“It’s an honor to serve as chairman,” Dunwoody said. “I appreciate the board’s faith in me in letting me get started earlier than July because we have a lot of work to do. And I appreciate the job Raoul did last year and his willingness to step aside early.”

Dunwoody had been a driving force to get the tournament on the FedEx schedule and also to have the Shriners be the primary sponsor of the event. For the past five years, entertainer Justin Timberlake had attached his name to the tourney and it didn’t produce the results the Shriners had hoped for. Attendance improved marginally but Timberlake was unable to attract A-list celebrities to the Wednesday Pro-Am and his involvement in promoting the tournament rarely exceeded the minimum outlined in the deal.

When the contract expired last fall, the two sides agreed not to continue the partnership.

“In fairness to Justin, his presence opened doors to a different group of fans and it brought name recognition to the event,” Dunwoody said. “I wasn’t involved with the initial deal to bring Justin on board, but I always believed the hospitals and the kids should be prominent in the name.

“It wasn’t a perfect marriage but it was amenable and he played an important part of where we are right now.”

This year’s tournament, set for Oct. 17-20, will have a record $6 million purse. It will also provide full points in the FedEx Cup chase and the winner will also get full points in consideration for the Ryder Cup and an automatic spot in the 2014 Masters.

“It didn’t happen overnight and it looked tough for a while,” Dunwoody said of the Shriners Open gaining inclusion into the FedEx schedule. “But we stayed with it and now we have everything we want and need to be successful.”

The Shriners are signed on through 2017 and Dunwoody hopes he will remain chairman through the life of the deal. So does Adam Sperling, the tournament’s director.

“Gary’s involvement in the transition can’t be understated,” Sperling said. “He’s always supported our efforts to grow the tournament and his passion is contagious. He’s our biggest morale builder and he keeps us focused on what’s important — and that’s the Shriners Hospitals for Children.”

Dunwoody, a Shriner since 1976, never loses sight of that. But he also knows it’s important to cultivate interest through local charities and events to make the community feel a sense of ownership in partnering with the Shriners.

“You can’t have one without the other,” he said. “Yes, we’re here for the kids. Everybody knows that. But when we reach out and involve other local charities, we get more people involved and we generate more interest.”

Sperling said the field probably won’t begin taking shape until mid-August. But with one eye on this year and the other on 2014, Dunwoody believes the Shriners Open has a great opportunity to become big.

“We’re heading in one direction, and that’s forward,” he said. “We’re offering more money than we ever have. We’ve in the FedEx. We’ve got the Masters and Ryder Cup incentives. We’ve got a fabulous golf course with beautiful weather in a great city. We’re helping thousands of kids and we’re not going anywhere. If you were a pro, why wouldn’t you want to play in this tournament?”

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

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