Switch in PGA Tour host could impact local charities

The news two weeks ago that the PGA Tour had replaced the Las Vegas Founders Club as host of the Frys.com Open shocked the organization that had overseen the tournament since its creation in 1983.

Gary Davis said he can relate to the hurt feelings.

He is the local point man for Shriners Hospitals for Children, which is taking over operations and planning for the Oct. 8-14 tournament at two Summerlin courses.

"I can certainly understand their bitterness if the relationship ceases to exist with the PGA Tour," Davis said. "It’s a tournament they ran for a long time and they are passionate about it and they care about it. We plan on capitalizing on the good things they did for Las Vegas, and we hope to make the event even better."

The Founders Club did not question Shriners’ intentions but instead wondered if they could indeed improve the tournament.

Attendance issues would bedevil any Las Vegas tournament organizer, and matching the Founders’ charitable contributions could be difficult.

Through the tournament and other golf events over the past 24 years, the Founders Club has donated more than $15 million to charity, including about $2.1 million last year.

"We’ve lost the ability through that tournament to raise the significant sums of money that we have been raising," said Matt Pearson, who was to serve as this year’s tournament chairman.

The Nevada Cancer Institute, which received $1 million, was the largest benefactor last year.

"Yes, (removing the Founders Club) affects us substantially, and we are disappointed," Heather Murren, CEO of the Nevada Cancer Institute, said in a written statement. "We had hoped to be able to support a number of our Nevada cancer programs with these funds, and now we will have to try to find the funding elsewhere."

Angela Quinn, president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Las Vegas, said her organization can absorb the blow of not being able to count on a $125,000 donation, which it received last year.

"We’re very lucky about the level of giving the last two years," Quinn said. "It’s a lot easier for us to overcome $125,000 than it would be for a lot of other organizations."

But Quinn added, "Even though we’re a $7 million corporation, that’s still a line item you don’t like to see come out of your budget."

Ed Guthrie, executive director of Opportunity Village, said his charity relied mostly on occasional major donations from the Founders earmarked for special projects.

The Founders gave Opportunity Village $1,200 last year, but Guthrie said until the change in tournament host, the charity planned to ask for $1 million to help build a southwest campus.

"Obviously, we won’t be able to have that fulfilled," Guthrie said.

Nevertheless, he said Opportunity Village planned to start construction next month.

"At some future date, we’ll have to find somebody else to help us with that $1 million and pay off that bond," Guthrie said. "Opportunity Village enjoys a great level of community support. We’ll keep plugging away. I’m sure there is some other angel who will come out of the woodwork and help us."

However, Davis said Las Vegas charities should not assume they no longer will benefit from the tournament with Shriners in charge of it.

"We haven’t selected the charities, but one thing we talked about doing is making local charitable contributions," he said.

Ralph Semb, Shriners’ chairman of the board of trustees, said while other charities will be included, the work in Las Vegas by his organization should not be discounted.

He said it has donated more than $10 million over the past 20 years to pay for 2,509 valley children to be cared for at the Shriners hospital in Los Angeles. That figure does not include the transportation costs or housing expenses for the families.

"Nobody knows about it," Semb said. "It’s the biggest secret."

Bob Combs, the PGA Tour’s senior vice president of communications, played up Shriners’ strong organization and "name recognition" as being a benefit to Las Vegas charities and said the tournament needed an overall boost.

"We felt it was time to re-energize the event," Combs said. "We felt that was the relationship to do that. We feel it should be a significant sporting event in Las Vegas."

Though Combs did not address the PGA Tour’s concerns about lagging attendance, it was clear the low numbers played a significant role in the change.

Several factors have worked against attracting better crowds. Most notably, Tiger Woods has not played here since 1997, and getting him back with the tournament so late in the schedule is not likely. Also, the tournament competes for locals’ attention with football, and the Las Vegas fan base can be a fickle one.

Plus, Pearson said there are 50,000 tickets available every day in Las Vegas for some type of event or show.

"There are no other cities I know of that have that type of competition for the entertainment dollar," Pearson said. "It is a different town for sports."

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