The Senior PGA Tour has made millionaires out of dozens of aging professional golfers since its inception in 1980, but the players also like to share the wealth.
In 1997, for instance, the senior tour raised more than $9 million for charity, a significant portion of the $44 million donated by the three branches of the PGA Tour. Profits from each event are supposed to go to charity; the average donation on the senior tour in 1997 was more than $20,000.
However, Orange County's senior tour event, the Toshiba Senior Classic, has struggled to fight its way out of the red--and therefore provide a big charity check.
The first event in 1995 lost money and the operator/beneficiary Orange County Sports Assn. later declared bankruptcy. When the 1996 event failed to turn a profit, operator International Sports & Event Marketing (ISM) said it dipped into its own funds to give $55,000 to three charities and two college golf programs.
Then last August, five months after the 1997 tournament, title sponsor Toshiba dumped ISM, came up with $105,000 for three charities and selected Hoag Hospital Foundation to take over as operator and charity beneficiary.
That appears to have been a solid move.
With four weeks remaining before the 1998 event, Tournament Director Jeff Purser says financial goals already have been exceeded.
"Our goal was a profit in six figures," Purser said last week, "and we are going to be well into six figures."
Purser said the main difference is the involvement of the Hoag Foundation, the fund-raising arm of Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach. Hoag has a long history of successful golf tournaments--its 552 Club ran the Newport Classic Pro-Am for 23 years and raised more than $2 million for the hospital, $1.2 million in the last five years of the event.
A senior tour event is a big step up the professional golf food chain, but with its strong volunteer base, Hoag is apparently meeting the challenge and then some.
"I really wasn't sure how successful we were going to be this year," Purser said. "I knew we were going to put on a well-run tournament and make a few bucks for the hospital and set the stage for the future.
"But truthfully, I'm a bit surprised that we have become so profitable this quickly."
The field: Purser said most of the usual suspects will be playing when the tournament starts March 13 at Newport Beach Country Club. Hale Irwin and Gil Morgan, the top two money winners from 1997, have committed, as have Bob Murphy, the defending champion, and Jim Colbert, the 1996 winner.
"Lee Trevino has officially committed," Purser said, "and I just got off the phone with Gary Player's agent and I'm 99% sure that he'll be here."
Senior professionals will probably be itching to play because the Toshiba event comes after a two-week break in the schedule. Only the Senior Slam is contested between the stop this week in Sarasota, Fla., and Newport Beach.
Flood-plain blues: Local courses have held up remarkably well during this especially wet rainy season, but several courses were partly under water last week.
Fullerton Golf Course was inundated by the creek that runs through the course when flood-control officials released water upstream to prevent flooding elsewhere. A bridge across the creek on the first hole was washed away. The course was closed for a day and opened with a cobbled-together nine holes the next. By last Tuesday, 18 holes were open although several par fours were shortened to par threes. By Thursday, the course was restored to its full par-68 length.
"It's still very muddy," assistant pro Steve Egbert said. "You walk out on the fairways and there's a quarter inch of mud on your shoes."
Dad Miller in Anaheim has similar problems with its flood-control channel. Flood waters closed the driving range and a handful of holes for three days.
"We called it Lake Dad Miller for a couple days," said Roger Teel, the head professional. "If we had jet skis, I could have rented them out."
By Thursday, Dad Miller's range and all 18 holes were in play.
You probably won't be able to say the same about RiverView Golf Course for a while. Much of the back nine lies in the Santa Ana River bed and is under water. Barring drought, that happens every winter, and RiverView shifted to its nine-hole layout Feb. 3. Soon after the water flow stops, superintendent and co-owner Steve Hart said, the course should be able to open the full 18 holes.
RiverView is holding up better than it has in the past, Hart said, crediting a redesign of the course and the federal flood-control project. It should get better upon completion of the Seven Oaks Dam and the raising of the Prado Dam to further control the river's flow.
"The future is looking pretty rosy," Hart said. "It's the middle of February and we have only a few more weeks of the heaviest rain, hopefully.
"I'm looking forward to the middle of March."