Thursday, May 24, 2007

Tour Not Charitable to Texas

Over at Sports Illustrated's golf site, golf.com, Texas-based writer Art Stricklin has a commentary on Texas' tour events, charitable contributions, and why our tournaments have gotten short-shrifted by the PGA Tour.

PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem once told me that fans don't realize how much the pros factor in the amount of money a tournament raises for charity when figuring out their playing schedules.

These days I find his argument unconvincing. There used to be something on Tour called the Texas swing, during which three of the four events in the Lone Star State — the Houston Open, the Byron Nelson and the Colonial — were played in near succession. (The Texas Open was usually held later in the year.)

The proximity in dates and distance of the tournaments added to their appeal because a pro could stay in a single state, albeit a big one, for almost a month. The events also had long traditions and famous frontmen. Jack Burke Jr. remains Houston's Mr. Golf, an honorific bestowed in Dallas on the late Byron Nelson (who personally rounded up player commitments) and in Fort Worth (home of the Colonial) on the legendary Ben Hogan.

Further, all of the Texas tournaments have been good to charity. According to several tournament directors, in 2006 the Texas Open ranked first on Tour in charitable contributions with $7 million, while the Nelson was third ($6.3 million), Houston fifth ($4.5 million), and the Colonial kicked in $2.6 million. That's $20 million from Texas.

By Finchem's standard, that kind of generosity should have turned the players' heads. Then why are so many of the top-ranked pros taking a pass on the Texas swing?

Art answers his question a little later in the column: it's because the Tour has put each of the four Texas tournament in a terrible spot on the schedule, changing their traditional spots to much worse ones this year.

It should be noted that the Texas Open - the king of charitable fund-raising - has been promised a move to the Spring as soon as a spot opens on the schedule. We shall see.

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