Area PGA stop gaining glamour

The Chrysler Championship likely will move to March, improving its chance to attract tour stars.

Published January 12, 2006

Florida's place in the new PGA Tour schedule to begin in 2007 will look dramatically different, and indications suggest a favorable outcome for the local Chrysler Championship.

The tournament at the Westin Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, which has expressed interest in moving from its October date to March, was enhanced by the news announced Wednesday by commissioner Tim Finchem.

Barring a major surprise, the Chrysler Championship appears in line to get a coveted spring date.

The tour's signature event, the Players Championship, is moving from its traditional late March date to May. And the long-running tournament at Doral in Miami is taking the Players Championship spot on the schedule and becoming a World Golf Championship event.

That creates an opening in the Florida Swing, a four-week block in March, and the Chrysler Championship is the logical beneficiary.

"This sounds more and more like we're going to get the call that Tampa Bay is going to be in March," said tournament director Gerald Goodman, who said the PGA Tour has yet to tell him when his event will be played.

The PGA Tour has been negotiating for weeks with the television networks and sponsors on a new contract that will begin in 2007. The individual tournaments, for the most part, have been left out of the discussions.

Asked if he could be more specific about the rest of the tournaments that make up the Florida Swing, Finchem said: "Not just yet. We are done with it, but we have some protocol work to do ... as is the case in a lot of the elements of the schedule, we will be getting all of that out in the next few days."

Finchem spoke during a conference call that included executives from CBS, NBC and the Golf Channel in announcing the new television contract. CBS and NBC will televise most of the weekend golf in a six-year agreement that runs from 2007-12. ABC will no longer televise golf after 2006. The Golf Channel, in a bit of a surprise, picked up all the first- and second-round coverage of events in a 15-year deal. USA Network elected to give up first- and second-round coverage, and the tour could not complete an agreement with ESPN.

As announced previously, beginning in 2007 the season will start in January and end in September with the Tour Championship, the culmination of a seasonlong points race called the FedEx Cup. The final four events, including the Tour Championship, will be called championship series events, with big prize money and purses.

Events after the Tour Championship will be known as the "Quest for the Card" and will all be televised by the Golf Channel. But because those tournaments will not be part of the FedEx Cup, many of the big names are expected to skip them.

Hence, the Chrysler Championship's desire to move to March.

For that to happen, however, the Players Championship first had to vacate its spot. In a move rumored since last spring, the Players will be played the second weekend of May and will have limited commercial interruptions, much like the Masters.

Ford, after this year, is dropping its sponsorship at Doral, one of the longest-running events on the PGA Tour which has kicked off the Florida Swing for some 40 years. Computer Associates will sponsor the new World Golf Championship event to be known as the CA Championship, which will have a field comprised of the top 50 in the world and money leaders from various world tours.

Last week, GolfWorld magazine reported that the new Florida lineup would include the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, the Tampa Bay event, the Bay Hill Invitational in Orlando and the WGC tournament at Doral.

"Now that Doral's a World Golf event, I think there's a strong likelihood we will kick off the Florida Swing, but I don't know that," said Cliff Danley, the executive director of the Honda Classic.

If true, it would be unlikely the PGA Tour would come to Florida for one tournament, Honda, then leave the state before returning for two more.

As for Chrysler's sponsorship, it was viewed as a good sign that the auto dealer signed a new deal with the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. Chrysler officials did not return a call seeking comment.

"Chrysler has not renewed here yet," Goodman said. "They've been in negotiations with the PGA Tour and have been waiting on the television deal. So maybe with that being settled, this can get under way also.

"But if they leave, we see no reason why we'd have a problem getting a sponsor here in March. We feel confident that PGA Tour wouldn't be giving us a date if they didn't feel good about us getting one."