The Failings of the International — Implications for Canadian Open

So PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and International founder [photopress:JackVickers.jpg,full,alignright]Jack Vickers held a conference call to discuss the demise of the International yesterday.

Some fascinating comments were made during the call, including Vickers’ quote that sponsors want Tiger to come and if he doesn’t, well, sponsors aren’t happy.

Well, I think there’s no question that he has a profound effect. And if he was here, I don’t think it would be any different than any place else he goes. The crowds gather and they want to see him and he’s the guy.
We’ve had that in the past in past era of the Palmers and Nicklauses and so on. But I think one of the things that’s not there today, and I don’t know whether it’s the golfing ability or the charisma, but certainly there are not the people pressing Tiger out there competitively that there were when Nicklaus and Palmer and those fellas, Tommy Watson and Hale Irwin, and I don’t need to get into that. But I think if we had two or three more Tigers out there, and that’s one in a gillion maybe, you would probably see a different condition out there.

So Vickers says the problem with golf is not just that Tiger doesn’t show up enough, but when he does, his rivals shut down. I guess you shouldn’t tell that to Henrik Stenson.

Vickers added this:

With the economic changes on the TOUR today, we no longer feel we can operate The INTERNATIONAL as a premiere event without certain ingredients and therefore, the right thing to do for The INTERNATIONAL at this time is to conclude this relationship for right now.

Since the hard-hitting team of ink-stained scribes on the call didn’t ask what Vickers meant be “economic changes,” I’m not sure what he meant. Doesn’t sound positive though.

Interestingly, one of the things I always hear about the Canadian Open is the need to make it more world class, to cater to the players, their wives and the caddies more. Apparently, according to Finchem, that makes no difference. He says Vickers did an amazing job, but the players didn’t come anyway:

Finchem: Jack and his team have been outstanding hosts, probably unparalleled hosts for our players over the years. This is a place where players looked forward to coming to, certainly to play golf tournaments and certainly to enjoy the golf course. It is a special atmosphere that is provided by the members and the staff at Castle Pines, and is especially recognized by our players.

What does this all mean? If a big tournament like the International can’t attract a sponsor, maybe it is time Finchem and the players reconsidered their hardline stance against mandating the number of events players need to tackle each year. Can someone explain to me how this would be actually bad for the game? Why not force Tiger to come every fourth year? It would be better for the game, though it might limit Tiger’s trips to Dubai. Oh well. That’s his problem — and he’s made enough off his exposure on the tour to recognize the game’s current shortcomings.

If the International or the Canadian Open had Tiger and Phil once every fourth year — even if they weren’t there in the same year — wouldn’t a sponsor be more likely to pony up the cash? That seems to be what Vickers was indicating.

All of this makes me more certain that it is time the PGA Tour and the players came to the agreement that they need to mandate a playing schedule of sorts for players — meaning they would need to play each tournament once over a set number of years. It would be better for the tour — and better for golf. The time to make this move is now — before we see the demise of tournaments like the International, and yes, the Canadian Open.

And for those that will line up to knock the RCGA when the International’s date goes to some new event, a source close to the organization told me that the RCGA fought hard for the date. It just was never going to go their way.

Oh, and apparently the July 4 weekend date isn’t seen as a strong one in the U.S.:

Finchem: No. Just on the July 4th date, I think Jack is correct in the response he got from his sponsors. This perception, is it a good date or a bad date; we think it’s a great date. But the perception of a lot of companies doesn’t agree with that, and in Chicago, that was Western Open date as you know for a number of years. Originally Motorola was the sponsor; they wanted July 4th. The tournament didn’t want to go to July 4th. They insisted it went and it succeeded very well.
It’s just a matter of getting past the perception that somehow a holiday weekend in the United States is a bad weekend. We had the same thing Labor Day and the Deutsche Bank Championship worked great on Labor Day. I do think in this instance on the title sponsor search, it worked against us a little bit because of that perception, but as Jack says, he and I, and I think everybody agreed, if we could get over that, it would have worked out quite well.

So the PGA Tour knows this is perceived by sponsors in the U.S. as a bad date. In Canada it is seen as a good date, but the event isn’t coming here anyway. By the way, Bob Weeks reported today the RCGA was close to a sponsor deal, but it fell apart at the 11th hour.

The transcript of the Finchem/Vickers conference is here, but these are the highlights.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

5 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I don’t think it is accurate to say that “the players didn’t come”. The International generally got a very good field, much better than the Canadian Open. Last year’s field included Phil, Ernie, Retief, Sergio, Jose-Maria, Greg Norman, Stuart Appleby, Tom Lehman, DLIII, Bads, Villegas, Long John Homes, etc. Other than Tiger and Vijay they got most of the big names. The problem is that “THE PLAYER” did not come.

  • The LPGA has a “mandatory schedule” in place to encourage all players to play all events but it is not very effective. The penalty is a nominal fine. How high would the fine have to be to get Tiger to follow along?

  • I think, Matt, if you denied Tiger his releases to go play other tours, that might make a difference. However, he could simply not be a PGA Tour member — though that wouldn’t make his existing sponsors very happy.

  • Robert – let’s say Tiger wasn’t a member of the PGA tour. He could still play the four majors plus the WGC events and the TPC by virtue of his world ranking and/or recent past champion. That gets him up to about eight tournaments. I believe he is then allowed to play any tournament where he is a past champion without being a PGA tour member. That would easily be enough tournaments. Even if he didn’t get a free pass as past champion then he is allowed five sponsors exemptions, is he not? That would get him to 13 tournaments on the tour which is probably about what he would like. Throw in a few Euro and Asian events and he is set and I don’t think it would make a big difference to his sponsors such as Nike, Amex, Buick, etc. Or he could start his own tour with 10 events to supplement the majors. Do you think Buick would rather sponsor a Tiger-less PGA tour event or a special “Tiger-tour” event where he was guaranteed to show?

  • First off all the tour players think of themselves as independent contractors that play the PGA tour so they have the right to decide which tournaments they will play.

    The PGA tour will have to take back control of these individual players or they will kill the goose that layed the golden egg. Maybe the PGA has to turn theumselves into a MLB, NFL, NHL league of somesort or the maybe the sponsors have to get together and form their own tour to regain control from the players?

    The players just make too much money and they don’t have to play as much as the players from other era’s.

    Snowman 8

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