New name + New course = New tournament? - East Valley Tribune: Sports

New name + New course = New tournament?

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Posted: Thursday, October 16, 2003 7:22 am | Updated: 1:19 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

OK, so the FBR Open played on the longer/stronger TPC of Scottsdale doesn't exactly translate into the above equation. But you would never know it, judging from the negative reaction that followed last week's announcement by the sponsoring Phoenix Thunderbirds.

After 71 years and holding out for what seemed like forever as every other PGA Tour event went "corporate'' with its title, it finally happened to our tournament. The proverbial name change followed the news that the course was being lengthened from 7,070 yards to 7,249 yards, with several bunkers widened, lengthened or added.

As of this moment, I have yet to hear anyone, aside from those associated with the tournament, say they can't wait to call it "the FBR'' when it rolls around Jan. 29-Feb. 1. Actually, the best line came from a pundit attending last week's FBR news conference, who compared FBR to FDR (former President Franklin D. Roosevelt).

"They both gave us a New Deal, right?'' he quipped, a reference to Roosevelt's economic program born out of the Great Depression.

Not bad, really, as the Thunderbirds had been going through a small depression of their own until FBR rode to the rescue. Struggling without a full title sponsor since 2001, the Thunderbirds' charitable contributions had dwindled from a high of $3.3 million in 1999 to a mere $1.4 million this year.

Still, no matter how much good the tournament does for needy charities such as Homeward Bound, Special Olympics, the Boys & Girls Clubs, the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Phoenix Children's Hospital, purists hate to see a corporate tag on the tournament title.

Why? Because for many party-hearty fans living in the East Valley and Scottsdale, the Phoenix Open had become a religious experience since moving to the TPC in 1987. Already they had seen their beloved Bird's Nest and rowdy 16th hole subdued. And now, no more Phoenix Open?

One reporter attending the news conference even went as far as insinuating that the FBR Open was a further attempt to tame the tournament's reputation. An allegation that 2004 tournament chairman Greg Hoyt and the Big Chief of the Thunderbirds, Pete Kuehner, vehemently denied.

"I think people are ready for a change,'' Hoyt said this week in the aftermath. "Everything we've done is going to make it bigger and better, and if we can raise $3 million to $4 million a year for charity, that's a big hurrah for the Valley.''

As far as the changes to the course, which includes an additional 179 yards, it was another inevitable. With guys like Vijay Singh, Mark Calcavecchia and Steve Jones pounding it into submission in recent years, technology had surpassed the test Tom Weiskopf and Jay Morrish originally intended. The only negative here was that not every champion for the past three Opens reviewed the changes to the TPC, a requirement by the Tour. Oh, sure, Calcavecchia and Chris DiMarco made a visit, but the self-serving Singh said he was too busy for such a trip.

From here, the only casualty was the water-guarded 15th hole, which probably will lose its risk-reward reputation by reducing it to a lay-up. Trust me, by adding 57 yards you have eliminated any chances of a player going 6-under par (two eagles, two birdies) there, as Calc did when he won the first of his three titles in 1989. That's unfortunate.

But as the TPC's general manager, Bill Grove, put it: "Personally, I don't think you could affect (the players') abilities unless you made the course 8,000 yards long. They don't amaze me anymore because they're just that dang good.''

Yes, all the news emanating from the Thunderbirds and the TPC these days is not necessarily popular, but it is practical. And if you really want to get picky, remember this: For the past 16 years, the Phoenix Open has been played in Scottsdale.

So, really, what's in a name?

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