Sports Business

SPORTS: Another victory for Indy-at Chicago's expense

July 3, 2006

First the Big Ten basketball tournaments. Now the Western Open.

Maybe those broad shoulders are beginning to sag a bit.

The news that Chicago-longtime host of the prestigious Western Open-is now going to share its PGA Tour stop with Indianapolis/Carmel (Crooked Stick), St. Louis (Bellerive) and quite likely Minneapolis (Hazeltine National) was another blow that sucked some of the air out of the Windy City.

Chicago Tribune golf writer Ed Sherman called it "the worst deal for Chicago golf fans since the invention of winter," then added, "The PGA Tour is giving the shaft to area golf fans, and it isn't graphite."

Perhaps.

Then again, maybe the PGA Tour-like the Big Ten-is saying to Chicago, "Don't take anything for granted ... other than the fact that the Cubs will always disappoint you."

Whether complacency had anything to do with the decision of the Western Golf Association and PGA Tour to regionalize the Western, turn it into the BMW Championship, and move it from July to September is speculation. That would include Sherman's, who also opined that the lack of a major local sponsor since 1999 and the need for an upgrade to the tournament's venue, Cog Hill, might have been unstated factors.

In any case, Chicago's every-otheryear loss of the Western/BMW is now Indianapolis' gain ... as well as an opportunity that could pay future dividends.

Case in point (again), the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament. When Indy slipped into that alternate-year rotation with Chicago in 2002, who knew what might become of it? Carpe diem.

Indianapolis did an extraordinary job hosting the tournament and parlaying its assets-convenience, celebration, community buy-in-into the kind of presentation Chicago, even with all its assets, couldn't match. The result: Indy now has the tournament for a five-year run beginning in 2008.

The tremendous success of the 2005 Solheim Cup, the hosting of the 2009 U.S. Senior Open, and the arrival of the BMW Championships in 2010 give Crooked Stick-and Indianapolis and Carmel by extension-the opportunity to demonstrate that (A) the Stick is an elite venue, even by golf's platinum-level standards; (B) this area will support golf at its highest level; and (C) when we do an event, we almost always raise the bar.

The recent confirmation of the longreported rumblings also was especially sweet when you consider the BMW Championships will arrive with a corporate sponsor in hand and will be one of the "playoff" tournaments that will determine the Tour champion, who will win $10 million.

Thus, the best possible field is assured, most likely including Tiger, Lefty, Sergio and Vijay (no last names needed) and whoever else will be the golf flavor of the day in 2010. In other words, this will not be your basic Greater Milwaukee Open or John Deere Classic. This will be special.

While the downside to some might be that Indianapolis won't be an annual stop, there also are positives in a onceevery-six-years rotation.

First, it does keep the door open for an Indianapolis-area course to possibly host another professional tour, with the LPGA and its rising class of young stars being the most desirable. Second, it keeps Crooked Stick as a possibility to stage other major championships, as it has with the 1991 PGA Championship and the 1993 U.S. Women's Open, and as it will do with the 2009 Senior Open. Third, Indianapolis is currently stretched to provide the kind of corporate support the many sports events-plus the Pacers, Colts and the Speedway's Big Three-that come here require. A one-in-six-years golf event won't bleed the well dry.

Finally, keep in mind that when Crooked Stick hosts an event, its members get doubly slammed-they not only relinquish their beloved links for a significant period of time, but also are handed "assessments" to support whatever event the course is hosting. Sure, the club has a mostly wealthy roster of members, but it's still a sacrifice they must make, and one not to be taken lightly.

At any rate, congratulations to those at Crooked Stick who made this happen. And to the rest of us, start looking forward to a 2010 that will include the Big Ten tournaments in March, the Men's Final Four in April, the Indianapolis 500 in May, (possibly) the U.S. Grand Prix in June or early July, the RCA Championships in July, the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard in August, the BMW Championships in September, and the Circle City Classic in October.

And for disheartened Chicagoans who still want to take part in all the fun, hey, there's still a way.

It's called Interstate 65. Upon arrival, we accept cash or credit.



Benner is associate director of communications for the Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association and a former sports columnist for The Indianapolis Star. His column appears weekly.To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to bbenner@ibj.com.
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