Vegas unable to excite PGA field

October 17, 2001 2:09 AM
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Las Vegas remains a prime venue for PGA events, except not enough elite players come.

“To those who say golf tournaments can’t make it here, well this one does,” said Kory Sagers, assistant golf pro at TPC Summerlin, the main site for the Invensys-Las Vegas Invitational held over five days last week. “This is the best time of the year to play golf in Las Vegas and we have a sponsor that is solidly behind this event.”

The event, which also used TPC Canyons and Southern Highlands during the 90-hole format, took its share of hits this year that caused a decline in attendance. Gaming, however, was not part of the problem.

“There is always gambling and betting in golf, whether it’s here or playing $2 Nassaus or Skins Games on the course,” Sagers said. “Heck, there are few poker games better than the ones that take place in the locker room.”

So how can a $4.5 million event look like a failure? Look no further than the leaderboard.

“There’s no question that not having Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson or David Duval entered definitely hurts attendance,” said Sagers, who has been involved in the tournament since 1999. “We did have John Daly and Fred Couples, both big crowd favorites, but Fred didn’t decide until the last minute to come and there wasn’t enough time to properly promote him.”

Mickelson, who was runnerup in last year’s Invensys, had a good reason for skipping this one.

“Phil’s wife is pregnant again and expecting at any time,” Sagers said. “I know Phil real well and he is one of the real class people on the tour. I’m sure he would have played here otherwise.”

Woods and Duval have cut back their schedules dramatically since the PGA Tournament in mid-August.

“Tiger had made hotel reservations and security preparations for coming here to play,” Sagers said. “At the last minute he decided not to make it. I know he doesn’t like to play with amateurs. That probably had a lot to do with his decision.”

Woods won his first pro tournament here in 1996, so his absence ruffles a few more feathers than Duval, though the Georgia Tech star definitely has a loyal following.

“The crowds have tapered off since 1999, but I noticed a definite upswing in the way the tournament was handled over the past year just by driving down the freeway,” Sagers said. “There were signs posted everywhere that made me proud to be part of the event. The sponsors have gone all out to show that the tournament is important to them.”

Sager’s remarks were supported by the involvement of the Howard Hughes Corporation and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor Authority, which each had large corporate areas located near the 1st and 18th holes.

At $4.5 million, the Invensys ranks fifth on the Tour in prize money. However, the Tour Championship played two weeks later in Houston featuring the top 30 players on this year’s money list, has caused the Vegas event to lose a bit of its luster.

“The Tour Championship does pay more money and it does hurt us being so close on the schedule,” Sagers said. “But, this is the best time for the event to be in Las Vegas as far as weather. We could run into some cold weather if it’s pushed back, and if held earlier it’s still too hot. The conditions are absolutely perfect now and I am very optimistic that we will get the top players back.”

Las Vegas lost the annual LPGA event when the Desert Inn’s availability was in doubt, and the PGA Seniors tourney lost its sponsor.

“I think Las Vegas supports the best products and that’s why the PGA has been able to survive,” Sagers said. “But everyone here at Summerlin wants to do more. We are preparing for next year’s event right now.”