Gardner, 39, has big plans for Timberlake-Shriners PGA Tour event
Gardner, 39, has a sizable challenge on his hands. That is, to lure fans out to TPC Summerlin for four days in the middle of football season to watch some of the best golfers not named Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson after the PGA Tour season has essentially ended.
Gardner's predecessors, Ian Knight and Charlie Baron, were unable to do it, but Gardner thinks he can succeed. With music superstar Justin Timberlake and 375,000 Shriners at his disposal, reasonable ticket prices ($15 daily badges) and savvy marketing, Gardner said he thinks he can get more than 10,000 people to show up for the Oct. 13 to 19 event.
"Justin is really committed to this. So are the Shriners,'' Gardner said. ''They are here for the long haul, and when people see that, I think they'll respond and support the event."
The Shriners signed a five-year deal last year to take over the tournament, which offers a $4.1 million purse. Timberlake came on board a few weeks later for what is now known as the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. Gardner said both elements are critical to the tournament's future.
"Justin's going to reach out to a nontraditional golf demographic," Gardner said. "With his contacts and his hands-on involvement, it's going to create a lot of excitement that week.
"The Shriners are unbelievable. The work they do with kids, how can you not support that? And with hundreds of thousands of Shriners all over, what better place for them to come than Las Vegas?"
The other motivation to boost the field is the change in format. There is no more Pro-Am for the first two rounds, and for the pros who prefer to do their work without dealing with an amateur, Las Vegas suddenly might be a more attractive event. The tournament also is being played exclusively at TPC Summerlin.
Gardner most recently served as assistant tournament director for the PGA Tour stop in Hartford, Conn. He got his start in golf as an intern under Baron from 1999 to 2001 while attending graduate school at UNLV. He saw first-hand the challenges that come with putting on a PGA Tour event in Las Vegas.
"There's so much competition from the casinos for that entertainment dollar," Gardner said. "It's a tough, tough market. I think we can do a better job of reaching out to the community and getting the word out."
Gardner has weekly meetings with the PGA Tour marketing and business departments as well as with representatives of Timberlake. Gardner said he hopes the ideas produced in those Friday brainstorming sessions will eventually result in the Tour moving the event from its Fall Series to the regular season, preferably in the spring.
The Shriners and Timberlake are committed long term to Las Vegas, Gardner said, and so is he.
"I was in Hartford for seven years, and it was hard for me to leave," he said. "But this is an amazing opportunity, and I truly believe it can work here. This is the best model for a golf tournament in Las Vegas."
Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@ reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.