Sunday, September 10, 2000

Tiger may be boosting even Kroger Senior Classic

He won't be eligible for 25 years

By John Eckberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The date is not etched on the calendar of any tournament official involved with the Kroger Senior Classic at the Golf Center at Kings Island in Mason. At least not yet.

        But Dec. 30, 2025, the day Eldrick T. “Tiger” Woods turns 50 and is eligible to play in this tournament, you can bet that somebody from the tournament will pick up the telephone to find out whether Mr. Woods wants to play golf in Southwest Ohio.

        “You wonder if any of us will still be around when he turns 50,” said Bob Hodge, president of the Cincinnati-Dayton Kroger marketing area and a supporter of golf and this tournament, in its 11th year.

        “I'm starting to root for the other guys. By the time he gets to the senior tour, Tiger will probably own the world.”

        Mr. Woods has revolutionized and reinvigorated the PGA tour, and Mr. Hodge is among those who think Mr. Woods has already had an impact on the Kroger Senior Classic, with events running from Monday through Sunday at the Mason facility.

        Though no official tally is maintained about fan demographics, Mr. Hodge has a gut feeling:

        “The last couple of years, we are getting more youth. You can tell,” he said. He attributes that to Mr. Wood's sterling PGA record, which in turn brings younger and younger people to the sport. A gallery of 100,000 is expected to attend.

        Other changes have come to the event in recent years, a tournament that this year will have 78 senior Professional Golf Association professionals vying for $1.4 million in prize money with $210,000 going to the winner.

        Firstar Corp. is in the second year of a three-year contract to be a presenting sponsor and welcomes the opportunity to bring quality golf to local fans, as well as make a contribution to the community. Proceeds from the event benefit the Kroger Scholarship Fund.

        Officials estimate that $1.42 million has been directed into that fund from the tournament since 1990. The event will pump $100,000 to the charity this year, said Margie French, tournament director.

        “This tournament is a way for our company to give something back to the community,” said Jerry Grundhofer, president and chief executive of Firstar. “We are very excited about the event.”

        The tournament puts tens of thousands of fans on the course each year, which backers think helps sponsoring companies build name recognition. Sponsoring companies offer clients a chance to meet the golfers and be entertained in hospitality tents.

        Host sponsors this year are Nabisco, Inc., The Cincinnati Enquirer, the Cincinnati Post, Frisch's Restaurants Inc., The Golf Center at Kings Island, WKRC-TV, WLW-AM and Cincinnati Bell Wireless.

        Since the tournament began, Cincinnati Bell has used the event to entertain clients and guests. This is the first year that the company, now known as Broad- wing, authorized subsidiary Cincinnati Bell Wireless to be a host sponsor of the tournament.

        The company would not disclose what that sponsorship cost.

        “It is a natural part of our support of the community, and it is a good way for us to interact with our customers. It allows us to speak to them about how we can help them connect, and it is a way for us to listen to what they have to say,” said Tressie Long, corporate communication specialist for Broadwing.

        Some changes have come to the event in an effort to boost its profile on the local and national levels:

        • The economics of wooing 23 of the top 25 money-winners on the senior tour is not complicated — put more cabbage in the purse. This year's purse matches last year's and is the fourth-largest on the senior tour in 2000, up from $1 million in 1997 and $1.1 million in 1998.

        “A higher purse brings out the players,” Ms. French said. “We've talked to the players and been in enough meetings with them to know that the first thing they consider is the size of the purse. They make no bones about it.”

        • The golf course is tougher for the professionals who do play, as a result of alterations made two years ago. A make-over brought 160 new trees and 11 new bunkers; 12 fairways were shifted from 5 feet to 15 yards.

        “We all met and said what can we do to make it more challenging,” Ms. French said. “That brought out the marquee players like Hale Irwin. Last year was the first time he was here. He's back again, and that speaks for itself.”

        Despite the best efforts of backers, the weather can clobber attendance. Two years ago, attendance was hammered because of the heat and families going on vacation during the July Fourth weekend when the event was held.

        It was rescheduled to late September but that, too, was problematic. “You're competing with college football and professional football,” Mr. Hodge said.

        This year's early September date still has football competition but that will not discourage ESPN from broadcasting the tournament.

        Despite the changes, one aspect of the senior tour is timeless.

        Players who play are equal parts working stiff and professional golfer, which means that somebody who once tuned up cars or painted houses for a living may take home the winner's cup and a small fortune from this event.

        That is part of the allure of the senior tour, Ms. French said, but it is not the whole picture. “Most are golfers that people knew from their PGA days from way back when. That's why people come out,” she said.

        The companies that chose to affiliate with the tournament can expect national and international TV coverage of the event and their products.

        “It becomes a showcase for companies and their goods,” Ms. French said.


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