There was supposed to be a Champions Tour event in San Antonio, just like there had been one for the past 30 years, played at three different courses around the city.
Instead there was one high-profile professional-amateur tournament, bankrolled by the one of the sponsors hoping that the San Antonio Championship will rise again and take its place among the list of the most popular events on the 50-and-over professional golf tour.
The tournament, which has been held at the TPC San Antonio’s AT&T Canyons Course since 2011 and at the Dominion Country Club and Oak Hills Country Club in the years before that, lost AT&T as its title sponsor after the 2014 tournament. It continued on as the San Antonio Championship last year, albeit with a smaller contribution from AT&T and a reduced purse for the players.
Pro Link Sports, the management company that runs the tournament, along with tour officials have been searching for a main sponsor since 2014 when AT&T indicated it would not renew its contract.
If a title sponsor is not found by this November the week reserved for the event, and likely the tournament itself, could just fade away, said Pro Link Sports’ Colby Callaway, the event’s director.
“We are going down every path imaginable and we’ve spoke to every one you can think of about becoming the title sponsor of this event,” Callaway said Thursday. “We are working with a real deadline to get this done – it’s not right for us to leave the Champions Tour hanging for another year waiting for us.”
This week’s event, sponsored by Harvey-Cleary Builders and finishing up two days of play on Friday, featured 22 teams with a Champions Tour player and a wounded warrior in every foursome.
The Pro-Am serves a place-holder for the San Antonio Championship, to create awareness of the benefit of the sponsoring the tournament and to raise funds for Champions Charities, whose major beneficiaries are Feherty’s Troops First – which helps wounded warriors who have been injured while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan – and other deserving local charitable organizations.
“San Antonio needs to have this tournament and it’s our goal to show other sponsors the benefit of this event,” said Joseph Cleary, Jr., president of Harvey-Cleary. “It’s all about providing help to those that need it in our community. Every person that’s been on the course with us at this event and played with the wounded warriors we have on our teams has been touched by what we are doing here.”
The tournament thought it had a title sponsor sewn up last fall, but Ace Hardware, the largest retailer-owned hardware cooperative in the world, backed out at the last minute, Callaway said. Another unnamed potential sponsor had shown “significant interest” but backed away from signing in the 11th hour, he said.
The Champions Tour pros playing in this year’s Pro-Am include World Golf Hall of Famers David Graham and Hale Irwin, Austin’s Wes Short, Jr., Hal Sutton, Texas Golf Hall of Fame inductee Steve Elkington, Texas A&M grad Jeff Maggert and Esteban Toledo, who penned an impassioned op-ed piece about the need for this tournament that ran in the San Antonio Express-News on Wednesday.
The players are adamant about the tournament surviving, its place in Champions Tour history, and keeping the event at TPC San Antonio, which is an amenity of the massive JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort.
“This has always been one of our favorite stops on tour and it’s become even more so since it moved here to TPC San Antonio,” said Fred Funk, one of the Champions Tour pros participating in this year’s Pro-Am and the 2006 titleist at this event. “There are very few tournaments where all the players bring their families, stay in one centralized location, and get to mingle with the players we meet in the Pro-Am.
“That’s just one of the things that makes this event so special,” Funk added. “We have to do all we can to make sure this tournament survives. The tournament we are participating in this week is part of that.”
The San Antonio Championship’s streak as the longest-running tournament in one metropolitan area on the Champions Tour is in dire straits, but it’s demise is far from a foregone conclusion.
“We’ve had such an incredible response from the Champions Tour players who are taking part in this event because they love San Antonio and want to do whatever they can to play here,” Callaway said. “We have our goal – and with their help and the sponsors we have here this week – we are doing all we can to reach that goal.”
Top image: The 18th hole at TPC San Antonio’s AT&T Canyons Course. Photo courtesy of Pro Link Sports.