Without sponsors, the show cannot go on.
Organizers of the Henrico Open, a professional golf tournament for players one cut below the PGA Tour, spent a year of looking for sponsors and turned up zilch.
”We called on every public and private organization we could think of, and brought the opportunity to their attention,” said Fred Agostino, executive director of the Henrico Development Agency.
“When times are tough, these are the kinds of things that get cut out,” Agostino said.
Henrico Economic Development would have paid $500,000 to help sponsor the event, up $25,000 from last year, but that was still short of the amount needed to field the event. No companies came forward to sponsor the event otherwise.
Previous sponsor Saxon Capital, the formerly Glenn-Allen based subprime mortgage lender, was sold in 2006 to Morgan Stanley and moved many of its jobs to Texas in 2007. The company laid off most of the remaining employees late last year. (Turns out lending money willy nilly wasn’t such a good business idea).
David Maraghy, the tournament director, said the tournament needed about $200,000 more in sponsorships.
“I thought somebody would rally around us because of baseball (meaning the departing AAA Richmond Braves). This was the last PGA tour event in Virginia.” The LPGA still stops in Williamsburg to play the Michelob Ultra at Kingsmill, but even there – and even with Michelle Wie – the crowds have been sparse.
The absence of a tourney isn’t great news for the area’s hotel industry, which is suffering a nation-wide slowdown The Nationwide Tour does not typically draw a huge fan base from out-of-town, but players, caddies and entourages always needed a place to stay.
The vendors at the event will also be without a place to sell. Event attendance last year was around 20,000 or 25,000 according to Agostino. The tickets sold for $10 a piece, but many were given away free.
Henrico County became a sponsor in 2003, deciding to slap their name on the tournament because of world-wide exposure on the Golf Channel. “They have a huge audience and it runs in other countries (including Korea, and England). Our motivation from Day 1 was to take advantage of that,” Agostino said.
“Without the golf channel, no matter how sorry we would have been to see it go, we would not have stepped up to the plate,” Agostino said.
The event was a mixed bag for the Dominion Club, which played course host. Many of the private course’s members enjoyed playing the tougher conditions, which included taller grass in the rough. And more people paid greens fees to play before and after the tournament than would typically, said General Manager Sean McLaren.
“It was great to be on TV and to get the name out there. We’re a corporate club, and the hook there was selling more memberships,” McLaren said.
But the long rough was hard to cut once the tournament was over, and many of the course’s less skilled players didn’t particularly enjoy the extra challenge.
The golf industry is suffering through a national slow-down. After decades of growth, the number of rounds has been stagnant for the last several years. And the Richmond-Williamsburg area is considered to have been over-developed with new courses.
McLaren said that charity tournament play is also starting to fall. Tournaments for companies or as charities are a significant source of revenue for lots of area clubs.
He said the number of events is the same, but that each one draws 20% to 40%fewer golfers. “We used to get 120, now we’re getting 86, 88 golfers.”
“People are working more, and not taking off to play in tournaments.”
Aaron Kremer is the BizSense Editor. He will play the Dominion Club, and any other private course, with anybody who will have him.