Contracts haven't been signed but Baltimore is on its way to being awarded a stop on the Senior Professional Golf Association Tour in 1992. Membership of the Hillendale Country Club, where the event will be played, voted overwhelmingly to host what is tentatively going to be called the Chesapeake Open. It will offer an imposing purse of $600,000.
The PGA Senior Tour offers such box office names as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Chi-Chi Rodriguez, Jim Dent, Al Geiberger, Bob Charles, Bruce Crampton, Miller Barber and other age 50-and-over players coming off the regular PGA Tour.
Proceeds will be shared by area charities, with a portion also designated for the ecological efforts to save Chesapeake Bay. The tournament idea was initiated by Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who wrote a letter to Bill Clarke, former national president of the PGA and retired pro at Hillendale, giving him encouragement and granting full authorization to serve as his official spokesman in the matter.
One corporate sponsor has given a verbal commitment to participate. Others are needed because, as Clarke stipulates, "We must make it a financial success before the first golfer tees off. It's not like the old Eastern Open [played for 13 years at Mount Pleasant and Pine Ridge], where daily ticket sales were so essential. We have to get it done in advance."
Asked what his next move would be, Clarke said: "To talk with John Trageser, president of the Golfers' Charitable Association and some of the other officials in that group. They have a lot of talent and I would hope they agree to become involved."
It's not known if the general chairman will be a member of Golfers' Charitable or Hillendale. But he must be a high-profile personality, with an understanding of golf, who is capable of eliciting support of corporations, country clubs and individuals.
There was a chance the tournament could have been held this year but Clarke, after deliberation, said it was thought best to wait until 1992, with likely dates in spring or fall. "I'd say September would be ideal," Clarke said. "The weather is more suitable. It also would take us away from any conflict with the Preakness, early baseball and other golf."
Hillendale has much to offer the Senior Tour: a mature, first-class course, well-groomed fairways and greens with tees that can be placed anywhere from 6,470 to 6,748 yards, plus a membership that obviously desires to make a contribution to the sport.
Rick Clarkson, who heads the PGA Senior Tour, is familiar with the Hillendale location since he supervised the Tournament Players Series that was held there in 1983 and 1984. He is expected to visit Clarke and inspect the course in the company )) of Alan McCurrack, tour agronomist, in the next several months.
Clarke's early interest in bringing the seniors to Hillendale was endorsed by Louis Grasmick, head of the Maryland Sports Advisory Commission, who told the governor the Baltimore area was devoid of a major golf attraction. Hillendale president Steve Cook expressed a desire that Clarke attempt to bring such a possibility to reality, but at first he needed the mandated support of the membership.
That was forthcoming when Hillendale members -- more than 600 men and women -- voted unanimously in favor of staging the tournament. "That vote was most gratifying," said Clarke. "Rick Clarkson and Deane Beman, the PGA president, consider Baltimore a prime market but I made the point I believe it is in everyone's best interest to schedule away from the Kemper Open at Avenel that begins May 30 and the Mazda LPGA Championship at Bethesda on June 27."
Hillendale has minority members in its club, which answered a prerequisite for clearance that the PGA established after its 1990 championship at Shoal Creek, near Birmingham, Ala., was threatened by a boycott. Shoal Creek added its first black member just before the tournament.
Clarke emphasized he was acting as a spokesman for Maryland, not the club, where he is pro emeritus, and deliberately stayed away from trying to influence his Hillendale friends -- only hoping they would see the wisdom in granting approval.
The Senior Tour plays in 41 different cities this year, which means the calendar is virtually at its maximum. It has gained wide favor, and its acceptance in less than a decade has been such that its popularity has unfortunately detracted from the potential gains of the women's tour.