Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2017

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Tourney organizers look to increase exposure, attendance

Officials say planning for next year’s event will begin today


Steve Marcus

Martin Laird of Scotland shoots out of a bunker during the 2009 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open on Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009. Laird went on to win the tournament on a playoff hole.

PGA in Las Vegas

Martin Laird of Scotland jokes with entertainer Justin Timberlake after winning the 2009 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open on Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009. Launch slideshow »

With three players engaging in a three-hole playoff to determine the champion, the 2009 Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open couldn’t have ended much better for golf fans.

Tournament officials and hosts, however, are not planning a celebration. It’s time to start thinking about next year’s event.

“It’s a year-long project,” Timberlake said last week. “When we finish this week we’ll meet again next week and talk about what were the pros, what were the cons.”

That meeting is scheduled to take place today. A major emphasis will no doubt be placed on how to attract more people to TPC Summerlin for the tournament.

“The big negative is we haven’t connected to get the people out here yet,” Shriners representative Gary Dunwoody said. “We’ve just got to connect with the community to get the people out here.”

Dunwoody said the goal would be to eventually have an attendance between 18,000-20,000. Although tournament director Adam Sperling said he was pleased with this year’s attendance, it clearly wasn’t at the level Dunwoody spoke of.

But Sperling emphasized that it was an improvement from last year. Although the actual numbers will not be calculated and released until later in the week, Sperling said his staff tracked concessions sales to get an idea of the numbers.

All indicators so far are positive, he said.

“What we saw was higher numbers day-to-day, even earlier in the week,” Sperling said. “Unless people are eating twice as much this year, I expect the attendance numbers to be up.”

Sperling has reason to be optimistic for the future. Shriners is signed on for three more years as the title sponsor. Timberlake also has three years remaining on his contract as the celebrity host.

Both parties have pledged their allegiance to Las Vegas as a PGA Tour site.

“This is definitely the place to have it,” Dunwoody said. “It’s definitely Vegas, even if you have competition. It’s still a destination.”

Everyone involved agrees that the best thing for the tournament would be if it was moved to the spring and was part of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup.

Although the tournament attracted the strongest field of players out of the five PGA Tour fall series events this year, a move to the spring would be monumental as far as quality of the field. Put simply: Names like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson can solve the attendance problem almost single-handedly.

But the PGA Tour’s 2010 schedule is nearly cemented. It looks like 2011 might be the earliest possible time to get Las Vegas’ tournament into the FedEx Cup.

“I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t the ultimate goal,” Sperling said. “All we can do is make this event the best we can. And if the opportunity comes up, we need to make sure we’re ready for it.”

In the meantime, Sperling said locals could expect to see the tournament name in the community more immediately. He said plans already are in the works to provide resources to charities and schools.

Sperling wants the tournament to have a presence 52 weeks a year — not one.

“If we can get into the community, you’ll see a viral effect,” Sperling said. “We’ll see a boost in ticket sales. With a boost in ticket sales, sponsors want to be at events where they can touch people.”

Timberlake said he wants the tournament to be something the community looks forward to all year.

“Hopefully, we can start making this a real tradition here at this tournament,” Timberlake said. “That’s really my goal — to start growing this tournament and some traditions outside the tournament.”

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