The Senior PGA Tour appears to be on its way to a Howard County golf course with an event that could bring as much as $30 million to the area.
"It's 99 percent certain," said Gene Ward, Hobbit's Glen Golf Course manager, yesterday of his west Columbia course playing host to the tournament July 3 to 5, the first covered by a three-year contract.
That contract has yet to be signed and Senior PGA Tour officials declined to confirm that Hobbit's Glen is the definite pick, but sources say a vote by the nine-member tour board is imminent, with an official announcement on Dec. 3.
"Baltimore doesn't have an annual golf tournament. That's why it's very appealing to us," said Tim Crosby, a vice president at Senior PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
Added John Mathews of Columbia-based EMCEE Sports: "This is a major, major event for Baltimore."
For the past two years, EMCEE Sports has run the Toyota Invitational, a two-day pro-am event with some 20 Senior PGA Tour players that attracted around 15,000 spectators to Cattail Creek Country Club in western Howard County. The event was designed to showcase the county as a suitable site for a stop on the Senior Tour.
The news comes just weeks after the Caves Valley Golf Club in Baltimore County was chosen as site of the 2002 Senior Open.
According to PGA officials, the Hobbit's Glen course is attractive because of its proximity to airports and major highways, hotel accommodations and a challenging, 54-hole course.
"This puts Columbia on the map," said Chris Beyer, manager of the Coho Grill at Hobbit's Glen. "We're looking forward to it. It's going to be the biggest deal in the county."
Kevin Pryseski, golf course manager at Cattail Creek Country Club, said: "Anytime you can bring in a national event and especially something of this caliber, it's great."
PGA officials said the tournament that is seeking a home will have a $1.3 million purse -- one of the top purses on the Senior Tour -- with a $325,000 prize for the winner. It is expected to air on ESPN.
Because the county is in the middle of what is termed by some golf experts as a "golf-hungry area," about 100,000 spectators are expected to fill the 120-acre Hobbit's Glen course during the event.
"This area hasn't been a major tour spot since the '70s," Pryseski said. "You just can't put a dollar amount on this PR event."
PGA Tour organizers estimate that tournaments bring in between $10 million and $30 million to an area with the hotel stays, transportation and food expenses of players and spectators. As many big-name sponsors will bring in clients for the tournament, organizers say, at least three times as much money as the tournament costs will be re-spent in the local economy.
Howard County's Tourism Council can already hear the cash registers ringing.
"This is really going to raise the awareness of Howard County," said Karen Justice, the council's executive director. "For the same reason a kid buys a Michael Jordan jersey, golfers will see that if it's good enough for the PGA tournament, they'll say they'd like to play there, too."
The spot in the Senior PGA Tour became open when the Bank One Classic in Lexington, Ky., which had run since 1983, ended last year. Other cities reportedly seeking the event included Chicago, Cleveland, Dallas, Portland, Ore., and Seattle.
There are 38 other stops with a total purse of an estimated $41 million in next year's Senior Tour, which runs from January through November.
Big-name sponsors are typically needed to support such a tournament, which organizers say will cost a total of $3 million. No one will say yet who is sponsoring the Hobbit's Glen tournament, but all proceeds will go to the Maryland Special Olympics.
Pub Date: 11/21/97