Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Why the Texas Open Has Survived

About a half-decade ago, the PGA Tour Texas Open in San Antonio was on the brink of extinction. There was talk of moving the tournament out of San Antonio, or of doing away with it altogether. The Texas Open, one of the oldest, most historic tournaments on the PGA Tour schedule, could easily have disappeared.

Why? Fields were weak, attendance was weaker, and, most of all, charitable contributions were weaker still. The PGA Tour makes clear to its sponsors and tournament committees that raising money for local charities is a big deal. Run the tournament, make it a good experience for the players, but raise money. How important it is for the Tour was demonstrated last year during the Tour's "Drive to a Billion" campaign. You can argue about what percentage of that policy is good corporate citizenship and what percentage is good PR. The end result is the same: millions and millions of dollars is raised for charity.

The Texas Open just wasn't raising much. It was near the bottom of the heap among all PGA Tour events. And that fact, combined with other factors, put the tournament on the ropes.

Then Valero came on board as the tournament sponsor, and everything changed. In the years prior to Valero's sponsorship, according to the Valero chairman, the Texas Open had raised a total of $4 million for local charities. In five years with Valero as sponsor, the tournament raised $21 million.

And that's why the Texas Open is safe and secure these days, even though field quality, attendance and local interest really never have picked up much.

And that was before Monday's announcement: In 2006, the Valero Texas Open has raised $7 million for charity. That's not just a tournament record - it's a PGA Tour record, the most money ever raised by any one tournament in a single year.

Can you say "moving to a high-profile date in the Spring?" The Texas Open can. And the tournament can thank Valero's money-raising talent not just for keeping the tournament alive, but - as soon as the new TPC course in San Antonio is ready - also for eventually restoring the event to one of the biggest on tour.

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