The $450,000 Gila River Classic will be played as scheduled next month, even though the Nationwide Tour has yet to replace the tournament’s sponsor and host charity, a spokesman for the PGA Tour said Wednesday.
Mike Stevens, vice president of business affairs and sponsor development for the Nationwide Tour, noted the contract with the Gila River Indian Community (the previous sponsor) and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Phoenix (the previous host charity) expired in 2004 after a four-year run.
"We’ve tried really hard to find a sponsor and another charity in the past year, but it hasn’t happened yet,’’ Stevens said. "So we decided that — Phoenix being a very important market for us — we would organize and run the event ourselves.’’
It’s not the first time the Nationwide Tour has taken on a struggling tournament, Stevens added.
"We’ve done it before — in Richmond (Va.), Rancho Cucamonga (Calif.) and in Salt Lake City — and in every case, we’ve been able to eventually find replacements. Usually, within the year.’’
Whether the Gila River Classic can be saved remains to be seen, Stevens said.
"But it’s been a great golf tournament for us in the past, and we’d like to keep
it going if at all possible, and keep it at the level it was run by the Boys and Girls Clubs.’’
Stevens said he will act as a temporary tournament chairman, and the Tour will pick up the entire $450,000 purse of the Oct. 6-9 event. As in the past four years, it will be played at Whirlwind Golf Club at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort.
Numerous calls to the Boys and Girls Clubs by the Tribune were not returned, but Stevens said he understood the difficult situation the Boys and Girls Clubs were in.
"We appreciate what the Boys and Girls Clubs did the past four years, but they’re not in a position to take this kind of risk,’’ Stevens said of the tournament that produced such champions as Ben Crane (2001), David Branshaw (2002), Lucas Glover (2003) and Chris Nallen (2004).
"It’s just something we have to do from time to time, and we still feel good about the prospects for the future of the Nationwide Tour in Phoenix.’’
In the meantime, Stevens said he is looking for some pro-am sponsors and players, as well as volunteers.
To reach the Gila River Classic tournament office, call (800) 556-5400, Ext. 5004.
Gila River Golf Classic
What: Nationwide Golf Tour event When: Oct. 6-9 Where: Whirlwind Golf Club (Cattail Course), near Chandler
Purse: $450,000 ($76,500 to the winner)