Tour debate focuses on the star system
- Kerry Eggers
- Portland Tribune - Sports
Do crowds come to Champions events for names or good golf?
For every Arnold Palmer or Jack Nicklaus or Tom Watson on the Champions Tour, there is a Dana Quigley or an Allen Doyle or a Tom Wargo a golfer who hung on the fringe of the PGA Tour or stuck to the amateur circuit and never won a PGA event.
Quigley, Doyle, Wargo and others got their start on the Champions Tour through qualifying events, and they have become major money winners on the 50-and-over circuit.
But some Peter Jacobsen, for one say the tour's future depends on limiting the qualifiers and involving more players who made a name for themselves on the PGA Tour.
'Twenty-five to 30 percent of the Champions Tour players are guys who never won on the regular tour, or never played pro golf,' says Jacobsen, 49, who becomes eligible for the Champions Tour in March. As a result, he says, fans 'have never heard of them.'
'Nobody tunes into these guys who maybe delivered mail or worked in a law office. No knock on them, but the Champions Tour needs to be all about nostalgia. There's always a place for somebody who earns his card and wins on the Champions Tour, but not 30 of them. One or two a year, OK.'
The Champions Tour, which will be in Aloha for the Jeld-Wen Tradition from Aug. 28-31, has eligibility requirements spelled out. This year, 81 players make each tournament; next year, it will drop to 78. It will include the top 30 players from the 2002 Champions money list and the top 30 from the combined all-time PGA and Champions money list.
The remaining spots go to former PGA Tour winners, annual qualifying-event card winners, open qualifiers and those receiving individual-event invitations.
'The tour has made it easy and accessible for a lot of people to get their card too easy,' Jacobsen says. 'Tom Wargo, I love him, he has played and developed a career out there. But if you had 30 Tom Wargos and they win 30 tournaments, what do you have?'
Jacobsen objects to the number of guaranteed spots given to those who are high on the Champions Tour money list.
'Andy North won $2 million on the regular tour, your mailman has won $7 million on the Champions Tour, and your mailman has more clout,' he says. 'That is wrong.'
The Champions Tour has slightly altered its eligibility requirements for next season, a move designed to help accomplish what Jacobsen is suggesting. It will drop two spots from open Monday qualifying and one from the qualifying school, opening more opportunities for former past champions on the PGA Tour.
But Bob Gilder, 10th on the Champions money list this season and a member of the tour's board of directors, says a little tweaking doesn't mean the tour is broke.
'This tour doesn't need help, believe me,' Gilder says. 'It's doing just fine as it is. We get plenty of crowd; it's related to not only how many stars are playing that week but also to how good a job the tournament does marketing.
'We have had some tournaments poorly marketed,' he says, 'and it shows. If they do a good job, there are tons of people out there watching us. Peter doesn't understand. For him to say we need to do this and that, well, he needs to come around a little more and find out what's going on.'
Gilder divides interest in the tour into separate categories.
'Sponsors want recognizable name players because their customers know them and can play with them in the pro-ams,' Gilder says. 'Sponsors don't want the John Harrises, the Walter Zembriskis, the guys who never played on the regular tour. They want household names to put their customers with.
'The sponsors are interested in a tournament up until the first day of the actual event; then the interest goes down.
'The fans are different,' he says. 'Name players are popular because fans have watched them for years, but fans are going to watch the leaders no matter who they are.'
Gilder says board members 'have exhausted this thing, gone round and round and round. We understand we need name players, but you also have to understand who helps the tour and who doesn't.
'Certainly, Peter will help,' he says. 'Craig Stadler helps. Certain types of players draw crowds. It will be Peter for a little while. It's Ben Crenshaw, it's Fuzzy Zoeller. The next big player who will join our tour will be Greg Norman.
'Some of our staff think that Scott Hoch and Scott Simpson and Fred Funk are going to draw crowds, but they're dreaming. They are winners on the regular tour, but they are not personalities, not superstars.
'The only thing that draws a crowd on either tour or in an exhibition is a superstar, period. Peter knows that. He can pay Jack Nicklaus a fortune to play in the Fred Meyer Challenge, but you can't do that on tour.
'We need to replace the Nicklauses and (Lee) Trevinos and Palmers, and that is going to be hard to do,' Gilder says. 'They made golf what it is today. People love to see them. But things change.
'It has become a more competitive tour. The Quigleys and Doyles are good stories. The fact they can play pretty darn good adds to the tour. A certain amount of fans love that and would hate it if we didn't include those people.
'Don't get me wrong, players like Peter and Craig will definitely help,' he says, 'but we have to balance it and make the tour available for the lesser names who are playing the best golf on our tour.'
Champions Tour attendance is slightly up from a year ago, according to new President Rick George. But with the down economy and competition from other entities for the entertainment dollar, the tour is looking for ways to increase interest. George thinks that the eligibility requirement changes is a start.
'We want more presence from PGA Tour players,' he says. 'We want more career money list guys. Those two categories will give us more players like Peter or Jay Haas who the public identifies with.
'Dana (Quigley) is a great story. He is good for this tour. Allen Doyle is good for this tour. But I know the public also wants to see the stars from the PGA Tour out there, and we think we are taking steps in that direction.'
Palmer says there are two sides to the issue.
'It's a tough one,' he says. 'I suppose there's something to be said for what Peter is saying. You certainly need to have some people the public recognize to keep this thing really going.
'But if you ask the players you might not recognize, they don't think so. In fairness to them, if they are the guys playing the best golf, they should be out there. Dana is a draw now. He has gotten himself to where people recognize him, and he's good, so that makes a difference.'
Crenshaw says interest is based on performance as much as reputation.
'Largely it boils down to the players and how well they play,' he says. 'People relate to guys who shoot good scores all the time, regardless of who they are. The more familiar names are what people want to see, too, but they need to perform.'