Title sponsors on the PGA Tour are dropping like Phil Mickelson’s birdie putts. At last count there were nine tournaments, about a fourth of the schedule, that do not have deals in place for 2011. Thirteen additional title sponsorships will expire after 2012. Some likely will be back. Many likely will not.
Each time a sponsor bails out, the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open gets a wee bit closer to attaining the spring date it might need to survive in the long run. Right now, it’s probably in the pine needles, laying four.
The JTSHFCO is the most recent incarnation of pro golf in Las Vegas. It is part of the PGA’s Fall Series, which means it is played during football season and the baseball playoffs by guys not named Tiger or Phil.
Tiger and Phil play most of their golf during spring and early summer, leading up to the PGA playoffs for the FedEx Cup in August and September. After that, they step aside to count their money and turn the links over to guys with names such as Martin Laird, Marc Turnesa, George McNeill, Troy Matteson, Wes Short Jr., and Andre Stolz, who I believe played Cher’s son Rocky Dennis in that “Mask” movie.
Actually, those are the last six Las Vegas winners. I am sure they all are excellent golfers. I am just as sure they will never be identified only by their first names, like Tiger and Phil and Jack and Arnie and Sergio, though it’s been a little while since we heard from Sergio.
The lack of marquee talent might explain why our PGA tournament has gone through directors like Spinal Tap went through drummers. Adam Sperling, the new guy, is back for a second year. That makes him something of a graybeard, although he doesn’t look old enough to shave.
Sperling said the JTSHFCO already has notified the Tour, in writing, that it wants to move to spring. It could happen as early as next year, Sperling said, or the year after that although 2013, after all these current title sponsorships expire, is the most likely scenario.
Until then, the best way Las Vegas can show the Tour it would support a spring tournament is by supporting the one still played here in the fall. Last year was a good start, said Sperling, estimating that attendance was up 30 percent over 2008.
That sounds great, but what does it mean in actual numbers? My question was like Phil on the back nine at Augusta. Sperling saw it coming.
He estimated the 2009 tournament attracted between 15,000 and 20,000 spectators over its five-day run. The goal this year is to double attendance, to 40,000. That might seem like a lot, but not when you consider Hilton Head drew around 130,000 a couple of weeks ago, and said that was down 20 percent from prior to the recession.
“Last year we did everything we could do,” Sperling said about boosting attendance, “but we didn’t know everything we could do.”
This year, they are going for the green. Or at least spreading some of it around. The JTSHFCO is offering $15 vouchers — the cheapest ticket on Tour, Sperling says — to local businesses and organizations, who get to keep 50 percent from every voucher sold. An even better deal is available to schools, which get to keep 100 percent.
The Clark County School District is the nation’s fifth largest, with 311,417 students at last count. If each student sold only one voucher it would mean a school system that is broke would be $4,671,255 less broke.
It also would challenge the security force at TPC Summerlin like never before.
That’s one problem Adam Sperling wouldn’t mind having.