PGA Tour chief says city must get behind tourney

The PGA Tour claims it wants Las Vegas to succeed as a host city for one of its tournaments. But the organization is not ready to do the single biggest thing many believe would help the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open achieve success: move the tournament from the fall to the spring.

Commissioner Tim Finchem said before that can happen, the city has to demonstrate to the Tour that it will support professional golf.

“We want to make things work in Las Vegas,” Finchem said by phone Wednesday as preparations continued for the Oct. 13 to 19 Tour stop at TPC Summerlin. “We want to grow the community’s involvement, particularly the business community. What we need to do is break through and have people come out.”

That has been the major challenge for tournament organizers. Playing in mid-October, the tournament faces stiff competition from people who follow and wager on football and would rather track their bets than some golfer trying to keep his Tour card.

“Las Vegas has its own unique set of challenges,” Finchem said. “It’s the shows. It’s the casinos. There’s so much to do. But a lot of tournaments do well in the fall, and we think it can work there.”

Tournament chairman Gary Davis said the ultimate goal is to be in the FedEx Cup chase.

“They’ve said to us we need to do three things,” Davis said. “First, we have to generate more fan support and more support from the business community. Second, we have to do a better job in raising dollars for charity. Third, there has to be an available date.

“We think we have a great charity with the Shriners Hospitals. We also think Justin will help generate bigger crowds. If we do those (first) two things, eventually, they’ll find a date for us in the spring.”

The Tour had an opening in mid-May 2009 when it decided not to return to Atlanta for the AT&T Classic. However, it opted to move the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio, which this year is being played the week before the Shriners Open, to the spring.

“We can always look at that,” Finchem said of moving Las Vegas from the fall to the spring. “Right now, the first thing is to build a solid event.”

Finchem said he thinks the changes in the format, including eliminating the pro-am and playing the tournament at one course, ultimately will help the event attract a better field.

“I think it’s a step in the right direction, and it’s important to make it as good for the players as possible,” Finchem said.

Still, getting the top players to come to Las Vegas after the FedEx Cup remains a huge challenge. Right now, there’s little incentive for players such as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, golf’s two biggest names, to want to compete here. The Shriners Open comes three weeks after the Tour Championship has been decided, and a purse of just $4.1 million won’t convince the best players to commit.

“It’s a chicken-and-egg thing,” Finchem said. “You want to create the best possible event, and that, in turn, will hopefully generate a better field.”

With a five-year commitment from the Shriners, Las Vegas’ Tour stop has much-needed stability. Finchem said it’s time for the community to take the next step and show it wants the event to stay.

“Charity is an important element, and the Shriners Hospitals are a great partner on the charity side,” he said. “Las Vegas is a city that likes sex appeal, some star power, and to have Justin Timberlake lend his name to the event we think will attract a new, younger demographic to golf.

“Las Vegas is a city we want to be in. It’s grown so much over the years we’ve been coming there. We think it has got the size to host a tournament, and we think there’s a great future there.”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.

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