The North Myrtle Beach-based National Golf Association Professional Tour is still in search of a title sponsor for 2013, but tour officials are prepared and positioned to go a second consecutive year without a company name attached.
Hooters restaurants had been the tour’s title sponsor from 1994 through 2011, but the death of Hooters chairman and chief executive officer Bob Brooks in July 2006 and the subsequent liquidation of his estate in 2011 led to the end of the relationship.
“We financially structured the business with a contingency that some day Hooters could be gone, and we went through this past year fine and actually had a really good year,” said NGA Tour president and majority owner Robin Waters of Longs. “Our model works, not just the tour-playing model but our financial model.”
The schedule for the NGA’s national Pro Series tour has been released, and it features 18 72-hole events with guaranteed purses of at least $150,000 for the second straight year. Events will be held in eight Southeast states.
In addition to the guaranteed-purse events, there is a members-only shootout that kicks off the season Feb. 15-16, three Q-School Preparatory events in September and October, a smaller winter series in Florida, and summer and winter series in the Carolinas. The entire Carolinas winter series schedule is played on the Grand Strand.
With the support of Hooters, the NGA Tour staged 20 events with $200,000 purses in 2011. Without a title sponsor in 2012, the number of $200,000 events dropped to four. But it is increasing to six in 2013 – with the remaining 12 events featuring $150,000 purses – largely because of the support the tour received from players this past year. The tour filled nearly all of its fields of at least 156 players and had well over 200 members.
“We’d love to go back to a full schedule of $200,000 purses, but next year we’re increasing back to six because of the success we had this year,” Waters said. “It’s not a big financial risk to add a couple. We’d like to have a full schedule of $200,000 events and a sponsor would be a big part of that. We don’t want to put it all on the players.”
A title sponsor would mean more bonuses to players, such as for daily low rounds, in addition to existing opportunities to earn Web.com Tour Q-School reimbursements – 20 were paid this year – Web.com Tour event exemptions and a spot in the PGA Tour’s Reno-Tahoe Open.
It’s not that there haven’t been title sponsorship offers, but they haven’t been significant enough for Waters. “We’ve had opportunities for titles, but we don’t want to sell ourselves short by locking ourselves into a title that won’t change the dynamics of the tour,” Waters said. “So we’re being cautious of choosing the right partner.”
The tour will continue to have mid-level sponsors, which in each of the past couple years have included Bridgestone Golf, Michelob Ultra and Pepsi.
Waters said he’s confident a title sponsor will be found in 2013. “But at the same time it won’t change our main structure,” said Waters, who this week is attending the Golf Coaches Association of America annual meeting and convention in Las Vegas. “We hope to have one sometime next year so maybe we can finish the season with more $200,000 events, more than the current six, and reward the players for playing our tour.”
NGA Tour membership is $2,200 before Jan. 4 and $2,400 thereafter, and includes the 12 events on the Carolina summer series, which otherwise carries a separate membership.
Pro Series events consist of a local qualifier, free junior clinic, sponsor pro-ams and a four-day tournament, and have rules mirroring those on the Web.com and PGA tours to prepare players for the next level. Member entry fees are between $925 and $1,150.
Though the Pro Series will feature at least eight tournaments in the Carolinas, including one as close as the Country Club of South Carolina in Florence, it won’t feature an event on the Strand for the sixth consecutive year.
The NGA Tour Pro Series staged an event on the Strand for 14 consecutive years and 18 out of 19 seasons through a tournament at River Hills Golf & Country Club in 2007. But interest and financial support on the Strand has waned since, as new management at the CC of SC and courses in Louisiana, Mississippi and Wilmington, N.C., have all sought out the tour.
“We’re getting solicited by other areas. We’re getting called and recruited,” Waters said. “The tour’s doing well and we’re getting pulled in a lot of places, we’re just not getting pulled in Myrtle Beach.
“Though with that being said, our Carolina tours are doing well.”
The Carolina summer series enjoyed a slight increase in play in 2012, and the Carolina winter series on the Strand has experienced a boon in the past six weeks with events featuring guaranteed $5,000 winner’s checks.
While winter events in 2011 regularly featured less than 40 players, the past four have attracted a minimum of 49 players, and the past two have exceeded 60. Participants have been coming from several states and have included some impressive names. Darron Stiles, who will be a member of the PGA Tour in 2013 via his finish of 17th on the 2012 Web.com Tour money list, played last week at Long Bay, and this week’s event at River Hills will feature 2011 U.S. Public Links champion and recent Clemson star Corbin Mills.
“We’re doing a good share of business for Myrtle Beach,” Waters said. “They’re coming from all over. We’re trying to be a good neighbor with Myrtle Beach and bring in business.”
Charity events abound
With a forecast of 65 degrees and partly cloudy skies, Saturday will offer a good opportunity to play golf and contribute to charities, and there will be plenty of opportunities.
There are no less than four charity tournaments Saturday on the Strand with worthwhile causes.
The Christmas Child Tournament is at Man O’War and The Wizard and features three sets of tees for competitors. A tournament at the TPC of Myrtle Beach will raise money for the South Carolina Chapter of the ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) Association and family of an area resident who is battling the disease.
A benefit for Al Cloyd, an area clubmaker who is battling cancer, will be held at Possum Trot Golf Club, and a fundraiser for the North Myrtle Beach High Athletic Booster Club is at River Hills.
Strand pros shunned
Grand Strand club professionals were shut out of the 10th annual awards bestowed by the Carolinas Section of the PGA of America in 2012.
The CPGA Professional of the Year is Gary Hobgood of Happy Valley Country Club in Wilson, N.C., the Palmer Maples Teacher of the Year is Eric Alpenfels of Pinehurst Resort, and the Junior Golf Leader is Ben Grandy of the First Tee of Greater Charleston.
Tom Mason of The Woodlands Golf & Country Club in Columbia earned the Horton Smith Trophy for commitment to the development and improvement of golf education for pros.
John Marino of Old Chatham Golf Club in Durham, N.C., earned the Bill Strausbaugh Award representing the mentoring of pros. Chad Newton of Pinewood Country Club in Asheboro, N.C., is the President’s Plaque recipient for player development relating to growth of the game. The TaylorMade-adidas Assistant Professional of the Year is Brian Stewart of Old Chatham Golf Club in Durham, N.C.
Merchandisers of the Year are Jessica Stewart of Duke University Golf Club (Public), Rocky Brooks of Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, N.C. (Private), and Stephen Youngner Kiawah Island Resort’s Ocean Course (Resort).
Mitchum earns POY
Kelly Mitchum, an assistant pro at Pinehurst Resort’s Nos. 1-5 courses, earned the most competitive points among club pros in the Carolinas through numerous events run by the Carolinas PGA, PGA of America, PGA Tour and USGA, and has been named the CPGA 2012 Bob Boyd Section Player of the Year.
Mitchum was the 2012 Carolinas PGA Professional champion and tied for second at the PGA Professional National Championship to qualify and participate in the PGA Championship at Kiawah Resort’s Ocean Course. The Boyd POY award is his fifth.
Charles Frost, an assistant at Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, N.C., is the Johnny Palmer Trophy winner with a section-low 68.44 stroke average in the CPGA’s four major championships.
Rick Lewallen, of Kannapolis, N.C., is the Senior Professional Player of the Year after winning the CPGA Senior Championship and tying for 44th in the U.S. Senior Open. Pat Thompson of Asheville, N.C., is the Senior Associate (amateur) Player of the Year and Jim Pridgen of Jamestown, N.C., is the Super Senior Associate Player of the Year.
All CPGA pro and playing award winners will be honored at the 20th annual Special Honors & Awards Ceremony at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center on Feb. 17.
Contact ALAN BLONDIN at 626-0284. To view Blondin’s blog, Green Reading, or Twitter page visit myrtlebeachonline.com.