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Sponsor, now Verizon Classic director gone

Published June 17, 2003

The future of Tampa's long-running Champions Tour event, already clouded by the lack of a title sponsor for 2004, became a bit more uncertain Monday with the news that tournament director David Porter is leaving to take a job with another golf company.

Porter, tournament director for the Verizon Classic at the TPC of Tampa Bay the last two years, accepted an offer from Meadowbrook Golf to do, among other things, sales and promotional work for the Father-Son Challenge to be played in December at ChampionsGate Golf Club in Kissimmee.

His new duties begin Wednesday, and Porter said part of the reason for leaving is the uncertainty surrounding the senior event.

"I hate to leave knowing that things are undone here," Porter said. "But I have to look out for me and my wife. This is a great opportunity. We have a five-year contract at ChampionsGate with Office Depot as the sponsor. And there is no guarantee there will be a (Champions Tour) tournament next year. Or there could be a tournament with a different management company."

Porter has worked for Minneapolis-based Pro Links Sports, which runs several Champions Tour events. But the company's contract with the tournament expired on April 30. Verizon, formerly known as GTE, sponsored the senior event since its inception in 1988 but elected not to renew beyond 2003.

Pro Links has been looking for a title sponsor for more than a year, and Porter said he recently has been talking to a potential client he declined to name.

"With the right person sitting in the room at the right time, the deal gets done in a hurry," Porter said. "We've been working toward that. It could come to fruition very quickly. (But) if something doesn't come in the next two and a half months, it's going to be very hard to pull the tournament off (in February) anyway. The logistics are not that difficult as far as setting up (the tournament), but the sales work, so the tournament can make some money, gets tough."

Porter said that Greg Aune, a partner in Pro Links Sports, would be in Tampa frequently to run the office. Aune was unavailable for comment Monday. Another partner in Pro Links, Hollis Cavner, also was unavailable. In February, however, he said: "We will continue to operate and fund the event until a title sponsor is found. We will not shut down."

According to Porter, the PGA Tour also has been talking to potential title sponsors, and if one of them is secured, that company could hire its own management group to run the event.

"It's a tough economy to be selling title sponsorships," Porter said. "I know they don't want to see this event go away. ... (This year), we really tried to push (PGA Tour commissioner Tim) Finchem into an agreement that the event will be here next year. I don't know when they decide the correct time to do that is, if they do it."

There had been some hope among tournament officials that the PGA Tour would announce publicly that it would help fund the event. So far, it has not.

"I know that there is such a good infrastructure in place down there, and the tournament has such a good history," said Jeff Adams, director of public relations for the Champions Tour. "We're going to do everything we possibly can to secure or help secure a title sponsor so that it carries on."

[Last modified June 17, 2003, 01:48:03]

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