Madison — Even though a bad boy named Ivan threatened to upset the Southern Farm Bureau Classic (SFBC) this year, organizers are ready for the 100,000 spectators expected at the 37th annual PGA golf tournament September 27 to October 3 at the Annandale Golf Club in Madison.
“The Southern Farm Bureau Classic has truly become a community project,” said Joey Stroble, executive vice president and CEO of Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Company. “With warm Southern hospitality and over 1,200 dedicated volunteers, it has evolved into Mississippi’s premier sporting event. We will have another strong field for this year’s tournament, thanks to the hard work and dedication of our executive director, Robert Morgan, and new tournament director, Nathan Grube. Together with our sponsors, the Southern Farm Bureau Insurance Companies are pleased to bring this premier event to Mississippi.”
As an economic development tool, the Classic packs a wallop. The 100,000 spectators who attend the weeklong PGA Tour event add about $14 million to Mississippi’s economy. The value of publicity cannot be determined for the televised event, which reaches 25 million households worldwide on The Golf Channel.
“We are also especially proud of the $3.1 million generated for Mississippi charities since 1968,” said Stroble. “In 2003 alone, our Birdies for Charities Program raised over $444,000 for 145 charities statewide.”
John Cossar, president of Century Club Charities, owner of the tournament, said there are 20 new charity members this year.
“Our charity total has increased each year, and we expect to do the same in 2004,” he said.
Last year, a Buick Rendezvous valued at $35,000 was donated as a prize for the lucky guesser of the correct number of birdies.
“We have a major national presence in golf, and the Classic is part of that,” said Charles Carridine, regional marketing manager for Pontiac-Buick-GMC Trucks. “It’s a win-win for all of us. We’re very pleased to be involved.”
Robert Morgan, executive director of the tournament since it was established as the Magnolia Classic at the Hattiesburg Country Club in 1968, said the PGA event “gets better every year.”
“This year is no exception,” he said. “We’ve made some changes in our staff positions that will work to the benefit of the tournament in years to come. As many people know, Steve Hutton, our former tournament director, left to join Promise Keepers. Our new tournament director, Nathan Grube, has been with us about four months. This year, we decided to contract with Bruno Event Team, an outstanding professional sports management company, through 2006. With 50 employees and offices in eight cities, they’ll help us expand our effective marketing area outside Mississippi. They’ll send about five people over for the tournament, which will provide us with a great deal of expertise, and me with a great deal of comfort.”
The threat of Hurricane Ivan “dictated minor changes in our game plan,” said Morgan. “We asked Colonnade, who does our tents, bleachers and other structures, to frame everything up but hold off on the canvas. They started preparations right after Labor Day and I told them, ‘Let’s don’t put any tops on those tents until we get through with Ivan.’ They had already decided to finish the framework but hold off on the canvas.”
Last year, John Huston, 42, a 15-year PGA Tour veteran, edged Brenden Pappas at the Classic for his seventh career PGA Tour victory by rallying dramatically Sunday with three birdies on the back nine — Nos. 15, 16 and 17.
With a winning score of 268, Huston became the 11th player over the age of 40 to win the title, taking home $540,000, or 18%, of a $3 million purse. This year’s prize money remains the same. Next year, the pot will increase to $3.5 million, with plans to reach $5 million by 2006. That’s a far cry from the $2,800 of a $20,000 purse that Mac McLendon took home as the first and youngest-ever Classic winner.
For the second consecutive year, a pro golfer named Pappas finished second. In 2002, Deane Pappas missed the prize by one stroke. So did his brother, Brenden Pappas, in 2003.
“Both Pappas should be back this year,” said Morgan.
SFBC has often competed for airtime with the British Open Championship. This year, the Classic will compete with the World Golf Championships-American Express Championship at Mount Juliet Estate in Kilkenny, Ireland, featuring a $7-million purse and top moneymakers such as three-time winner Tiger Woods. The four-day, stroke-play championship with no cut will air on ESPN and ABC.
“I think it’s a better tournament for us to be up against, concerning the TV audience, particularly since they’re playing in Ireland, where there is a significant time difference,” said Morgan. “After missing last year, The Golf Channel will broadcast the Classic for the next three years. Because of that, we’re selling golf in Mississippi all over the world.”
When Deposit Guaranty Bank assumed title sponsorship of the tournament in 1986, the event was moved from Hattiesburg to Jackson and from spring to summer. When the Southern Farm Bureau Insurance Companies took over title sponsorship, the event was moved to the fall.
“In 1999, the Southern Farm Bureau Insurance Companies were pleased to move into the role of title sponsor and keep our only PGA Tour event in the State of Mississippi,” said Stroble. “Our current agreement with the PGA extends through 2006. We are grateful to Entergy, Canadian National Railroad and the State of Mississippi for the role they play in sponsoring the tournament.”
Haley Fisackerly, director of customer operations for Entergy Mississippi, said the energy company decided to be a presenting sponsor because “it’s a one-of-a-kind opportunity to promote economic development by showcasing our state.”
“Very few states have the opportunity to host a PGA golf tournament and attract the attention that they bring,” he said. “One of the most important factors in attracting economic development to an area is quality of life, and the Southern Farm Bureau Classic shows the world the quality of life that exists in Mississippi. People from all around the world come to our state to be a part of the tournament and, because it is televised, people all over the world see what we have to offer. It’s a tremendous positive for our state and, when an event like this is held in our service territory, we are glad to join groups such as the Mississippi Development Authority to ensure their success.”
Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) Tourism Division spokesperson Mollie Gregory said promoting the SFBC “is part of all we do to promote the state.”
To expand coverage of the Classic, MDA is hosting sports journalists, including Golfweek’s Jeff Babineau, for a golf media familiarization tour September 25-29, which, at press time, featured stops at Grand Bear Golf Course in Biloxi, Canebrake Golf Club in Hattiesburg and Dancing Rabbit Golf Club at the Pearl River Resort before joining the Classic at Annandale. “Our golf program has received a lot of national attention lately and is doing very well nationwide,” said Gregory. “We want it to do even better as an economic generator for the state.”
The Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) promoted the Classic on its Web site and in its quarterly newsletter. Through its J-PASS Program, the CVB gave away eight passes and two on-site parking passes as part of a Family Weekend Getaway. “The winner … was very excited about winning the SFBC tickets,” said spokesperson Kay Maghan.
This marks the 10th consecutive year of tournament play on the Jack Nicklaus-designed, 7,199-yard Annandale golf course, featuring “signature hole,” par-4 No. 17, with an island fairway protected by water and rough and a small slender green. The 409-yard hole has proven to be a turning point in tournament play.
The format: 72 holes of stroke play. After 36 holes, the field is cut to 70 and ties. If necessary, sudden death begins on No. 18. In 1999, Brian Henninger scored the largest margin of victory — three shots — for his second Classic win. Dwight Nevil was the only other multiple winner, nabbing titles in 1973 and 1974.
“No major changes have been made to the course this year, at least not anything recognizable from a fan’s standpoint,” said Morgan. “We’ve made some changes the agronomy group from the Tour recommended. We’ve added a couple of new tees and redone some others, made sure we had a three-inch rough and reshaped some fairways to make play a little more difficult. The players will definitely notice the changes.”
The 132-player field usually includes about half of the top 125 finishers on the 2003 Official PGA Tour Money List. Of the 170 commitments made by press time: No. 52-ranked Loren Roberts. Other pro golfers committed to play in the Classic include John Cook and Jim Gallagher, and 30 more are expected by the deadline: 5 p.m. EST on Friday, September 24 (after press time), said Morgan.
“We feel pretty confident that David Duval, Cory Pavin and Mark Calcavecchia are going to play, and we feel hopeful of getting Paul Azinger again this year,” said Morgan, “but we won’t get firm commitments from many big players until that last day, and then we’ll pick the best 132. It looks like we’re going to have as good a field as last year, and possibly better.”
Sponsorships for major hospitality areas — the Trophy Suite, Alltel Arena, Cabanas on 17, SkyBoxes and the SkyClub on the 18th Green — and other advertising venues, such as patriot banners and locator maps, “are coming along better than this time last year,” said Morgan. “We’re anticipating being better financially than we were in 2003. That’s another reason we chose Bruno Event Team — to beef that up. We’ll know the bottom line by November. Also, Nathan is a very good operations person by reputation and also a good salesperson. That’s a rare combination to find in one man, but he’s done a tremendous job and deserves most of the credit for getting us over the hump.”
Unfortunately, Morgan said, the Classic does not have sponsors for Pro-Am play on Monday or Wednesday.
“I think we’re too far down the road for it to do a sponsor much good this year, but we’re aggressively seeking sponsors for those events for 2005,” he said. “Those revenue sources really help sweeten the pot.”
Morgan pointed out that the Classic remains the only PGA Tour event in the areas bounded by sister tournaments in New Orleans, Memphis and Atlanta.
“We all should be rightfully proud to claim that status,” he said. “We’re so appreciative of our sponsors for making it possible. Without the big guys and the big bucks, it would be hard to make a $5.5-million budget.”
Classic Tickets and Parking
• Small Business Package: $395
• Foursome Package: $195
• Twosome Package: $95
• Season Badge: $50
• Tournament Ticket: $15
• Valet Parking: $200
• On-site Parking: $25
• Public Parking: $3
For ticket information, call (601) 856-GOLF.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.