WinCo Foods Portland Open a good fit here
Now into his seventh decade foraging the universe, Jeff Sanders isn't exactly inching toward retirement.
"I've been busier than I've ever been, in a good way," says Sanders, 61, executive director for the Web.com Tour's WinCo Foods Open, set for Aug. 24-27 at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Course. "I'm having a lot of fun."
Sanders is executive vice president for golf events in North America for Lagardere Sports and Entertainment, which has become increasingly active in promotion of golf events in the United States.
Since the former Sunset High, University of Oregon and PGA Tour golfer joined Lagardere in 2013, the company has added four PGA Tour events to its repertoire.
Sanders and Lagardere promote the Greenbrier Classic at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia and the Safeway Open at Napa, California, and will soon take on the CareerBuilder Challenge at La Quinta, California. In addition, they serve as consultants for the Dean and DeLuca Invitational at Fort Worth, Texas.
Lagardere also runs two-day celebrity charity events in Minneapolis and Scottsdale, Arizona, along with Web.com Tour stops in Portland and Boise.
"I'm proud of our (promotional) team," Sanders says. "We had to step up and grow. Any time anyone acquires a company, they do it to grow. It was a challenge for us. I believe I have the best team in this industry."
Sanders promotes two of the most important events on the Web.com Tour, the secondary PGA Tour featuring the "next best" 156 players.
The $800,000 WinCo Foods Open is the last of 22 regular events on the Web.com Tour, with PGA Tour cards riding on finishing the week in the top 25 spots on the money list.
The $1 million Albertsons Boise Open, coming up on its 28th year, is one of the four major tournaments that end the Web.com Tour season.
There's no question that the WinCo Foods Open, now in its fourth year, features tremendous golfers. Those who have participated in the first three WinCo Foods Open events have gone on to claim 22 PGA Tour tournament championships. That includes Justin Thomas, who has won three PGA Tour events this year and ranks fourth on the money list with more than $5.1 million in earnings.
This year's WinCo Foods Open features a local angle — Aaron Wise, who led Oregon to the 2016 NCAA championship. Wise won the Air Capital Classic at Wichita, Kansas, in June and ranks 14th on the Web.com Tour money list with $187,122 in 11 tournaments. He is assured of gaining one of the 25 PGA Tour cards that will be handed out after the Winco Foods Open.
Sanders provided Wise with a sponsors exemption at the Safeway Open last October and spent time in his gallery at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January.
"When he's on, he appears to be the real deal," Sanders says. "He hits it high and hard and can shoot real low. That's what separates him. He can put a 61 or 62 up, and you have to be able to do that to win out on the tour now.
"Aaron is a real strong player. I was impressed with his driving and his putting. He plays with no fear. The NCAA win at Eugene Country Club gave him the confidence he needed. He looks like he's ready to play with the big guys now."
How will Wise fare on Pumpkin Ridge's Witch Hollow layout?
"He's going to be tough," Sanders says. "It helps to hit the ball high in there. The greens get firm and fast, and hitting the ball high helps.
"Hitting it long helps on a few holes, too. When Tiger Woods won the U.S. Amateur at Pumpkin (in 1996), he turned the par-5s into par-4s by cutting corners with his driver. Aaron has that kind of length."
Sanders is proud of the charitable contributions his tournaments provide. A year ago, the WinCo Foods Open raised $1.25 million for a variety of charities. He expects the figure to be in the same range this year. Lagardere's seven events will account for more than $8 million charitable contributions this year.
"That's our scorecard," Sanders says. "The companies we work for, that's what they care about the most. It's been a rewarding year for us."
Word is WinCo Foods is prepared to sign a contract with Lagardere that will extend the tournament for three more seasons at Pumpkin Ridge. Sanders wouldn't confirm it, but says things are moving in a positive direction.
"When we started this event four years ago, we were most excited about having the 25 PGA Tour cards, making it meaningful to the pros and playing at a championship-level venue," Sanders says. "We love the course. We love the date. We love the spotlight for Portland. With all these guys playing for their livelihood, it's real dramatic.
"Secondly, we wanted to give more money to charity than any golf event ever staged in Portland. We've hit that goal. We've had some great golf events in Oregon over the years, so from a charity standpoint, it's been fun to lead the league."
In the 1990s, when the secondary tour began as the Ben Hogan Tour, Sanders eyed four potential cities in which to promote an event — Sacramento, Tacoma, Boise and Portland.
"Boise was right at the time, because it was the smallest of the four cities, and a good fit," Sanders says.
Now, four name changes later, Portland is "the perfect size" for the Ben Hogan/Nike/Buy.com/Nationwide/Web.com Tour, Sanders says.
"It was too big back then," he says, "but not anymore."
The WinCo Foods Open is one of the best bargains on the Portland sports fan's calendar. A daily ticket is $10. A weekly pass costs $25. Children are free. Parking is free. A free breakfast is provided for all starting at 9 a.m. on the final day.
And, a free junior clinic, sponsored by Nike and put on by participating Web.com Tour pros, is set for Wednesday.
During the tournament, fans can suds up at the Kraft Brew Garden alongside the par-3 No. 12. A contest offers a lucky fan a new Honda auto if the fan's player notches a hole-in-one. There are plenty of hospitality and public-viewing suites alongside the 18th hole.
It's good entertainment at very little cost. I'm all for that. I'm betting you are, too. You might even see the next Justin Thomas -- or something better.