The PGA Tour and the Thunderbirds made it official on Wednesday: Come October of 2007, Scottsdale’s Grayhawk Golf Club will be the site of the $5 million Fry’s Electronics Open — for one year and then it’s gone.
My first reaction to the FEO (not to be confused with FBR) was: “What’s the point?’’ But upon further review, this new Fall Series event might turn out to be a really good thing.
First of all, the Thunderbirds are doing the Tour a favor by temporarily hosting the event, which will move to Morgan Hill, Calif., a suburb south of San Jose, for 2008. And, hey, you can never have enough “markers’’ to call in, especially in the big-time world of professional golf.
Even more than that, such “favors’’ are a tell-tale sign of what the Tour thinks of the Thunderbirds, the civic organization that runs the FBR Open. Sure, there is that history of the FBR-Phoenix Open being the most “wellattended tournament in golf,’’ as well as “the biggest party on Tour.’’ But it’s also about the record $6.8 million the Thunderbirds raised for Arizona charities this past year.
What we should also admire about this relationship is the Thunderbirds, for the most part, have soared to the top while doing things their way. And while the Tour has been somewhat heavyhanded at times over crowd control issues, commissioner Tim Finchem knows nobody does it better than the ’Birds.
Secondly, the new event gives Scottsdale two PGA Tour events in 2007 and four more days of international television coverage (The Golf Channel). How it plays out Oct. 15-21, 2007, when many winter visitors have not yet arrived in the Valley, is a question mark. One thing is certain: It will not rival the FBR even if new tournament chairman Greg Hoyt wishes otherwise.
“I look forward to bringing the same level of excitement to the Fall Series event that we see at the FBR Open,’’ said Hoyt, a former FBR Open tournament chairman. In that regard, good luck, Greg.
But the ’Birds are no dummies, and have positioned the FEO on the Raptor Course at Grayhawk rather than at the TPC of Scottsdale, the longtime home of the FBR Open. Nice, as playing it at the TPC might have made the smaller crowds look out of place.
Give Grayhawk a round of applause, too, because whenever they have been asked, Gregg Tryhus, Del Cochran and the rest of the Grayhawk gang have come through. That’s been done time and again, beginning with the Andersen Consulting World Golf Championship, the precursor to all WGC events that dates back to 1995. It’s an impressive list, which also includes the Williams World Challenge (Tiger Woods’ postseason event), the Tommy Bahama Challenge, and the Tommy Bahama Desert Marlin.
Who knows? One of these days Grayhawk might get what they deserve, like a TPC in front of its name. OK, so chances are the “TPC at Grayhawk’’ will never fly, but no other non-TPC course has ever done more for the Tour and its players.
The key element, however, will be the field. In that regard the Valley has an edge over some of the other Fall Series sites (Disney World excluded), which will be made up predominantly of players on the low end of the money list.
“With such a large contingent of Tour professionals already living here in the Valley, we should have a strong field vying for the championship,’’ said Hoyt, noting that the money is pretty impressive, too, with the $5 million purse ($900,000 to the winner) just $200,000 less than the FBR’s current payout.
Chances are you can almost count on homeboys like Tom Lehman, Billy Mayfair, Mark Calcavecchia, Kirk Triplett, Arron Oberholser, Ted Purdy, Joey Snyder III, Michael Allen, Jerry Smith and the like to be in the field. And who knows, perhaps Masters champ Phil Mickelson and U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy might decide to tee it up when the time comes, as both have close ties to Grayhawk.
But no matter how many locals decide to play in this new event, it will be a better fit than the Nationwide Tour’s now-defunct Gila River Classic, also was once held in October. Sure, there will be a lot of those former Nationwide graduates and PGA Tour qualifying school players in the 132-man field. But there will be some “names,’’ too. Veterans and former FBR Open champs Vijay Singh and Chris DiMarco said Wednesday they “plan to play in a few.’’
Like all seven of the Fall Series events, which will pump $32 million into players’ pockets, it’s a wait-and-see for the FEO. But for the most part, I like the idea even if it’s only going to be around for one year.