The Boeing Classic has found its niche during Seattle summers, becoming one of the more successful PGA Tour Champions events, and drew what appeared to be its best-ever crowd, estimated at 10,000-15,000, for the final round last month.
But there is no question the 50-and-older tour does not have the same allure as the PGA Tour. On the rare occasions when the top players were here — the 1998 PGA Championship at Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, the 2002 NEC World Championship at Sahalee and the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay at University Place — golf-starved local fans came in droves.
More than 6,000 people applied to be one of 4,500 volunteers (who each had to pay $165) at the 2015 U.S. Open in the first 36 hours, with so many trying to sign up that the computer system jammed. Tickets for the event (capped at 30,000 per day) sold out months beforehand.
So why is there no PGA Tour event closer than Reno, Nevada?
The answer appears to center on the Boeing Classic in Snoqualmie, with the PGA Tour officials happy with the success of that tournament and not wanting to upset title sponsor Boeing.
That was the conclusion drawn by Q13 Fox sports director Aaron Levine, who explored the possibility of getting a PGA Tour event in the Tacoma area and appeared for a while to be making significant progress.
It’s rare for a media member to be part of such a pursuit, but Levine says he has a great passion for the game. While attending Stanford he tried walking on to the men’s golf team, and he played in the local qualifier for the 2015 U.S. Open. He got involved because he said “it’s a travesty that the Pacific Northwest does not host an annual PGA Tour event.”
Levine and Troy Andrew, executive director of the Washington State Golf Association and the Pacific Northwest Golf Association, approached the PGA Tour in fall 2017 about the possibility of getting a PGA Tour fall event in the area in 2019.
Three months later, Levine received an email from Ric Clarson, then a senior vice president for the PGA Tour, saying Tour commissioner Jay Monahan had given the green light to explore an annual event in Tacoma starting in fall 2019.
“That was the exploratory phase, but at the very least we have a green light from the PGA commissioner, so this is getting somewhere,” Levine recalled.
Levine and Andrew looked at the Tacoma Country Club and the Home Course in DuPont as possible venues. The bigger hurdle would be finding a title sponsor. Levine said Jody Brothers, who became the PGA Tour contact for Levine and Andrew after Clarson retired, indicated “they wanted to work with us on finding a naming-rights sponsor, but to hold off on that because they had an internal meeting coming up in March (2018).”
But Levine was shocked by what happened next.
“According to Jody, the Champions Tour stepped in and said, ‘Absolutely not,’ ” Levine said. “’We are not going to have a PGA Tour event in the same market as the Boeing Classic, given that the Boeing Classic is considered a successful event on the Champions Tour.’”
The road to getting a PGA Tour event had come to an abrupt end.
“We were optimistic,” Andrew said. “Aaron spearheaded it, and we got on a couple of conference calls with the PGA Tour, and it was a very strong possibility because they were looking at adding events in the fall. But there were a lot of moving parts that maybe Aaron and I didn’t understand, and that’s why they didn’t take it any further. I think the Boeing Classic, and Boeing being the major sponsor of that, had something do to with it.”
The Champions Tour would not comment to The Seattle Times.
“We are focused on the continued success of the Boeing Classic on PGA Tour Champions and are not in any discussions in regards to a PGA Tour event in the Seattle/Tacoma area,” said Joel Schuchmann, vice president of communications for the PGA Tour.
Brian Flajole, tournament director of the Boeing Classic, said he would not want a local PGA Tour stop within a week or so of his event, but he is not against the idea of a PGA Tour event in the area.
“I am only speaking on behalf of the Boeing Classic, and not for Boeing, but I think two major sporting events, just like four major sports, can all survive in Seattle,” Flajole said. “It’s a big enough town with enough major companies, so if that was a decision by Boeing or the Tour to (bring a regular Tour event to the Seattle area), I would definitely support that.”
But would Boeing support that?
“Boeing, whether they know it or not, or whether they acknowledge it or not, is the biggest hurdle to getting the PGA Tour to OK an event in our area,” Levine said. “The PGA Tour and the Champions Tour did not want to ruffle any feathers with Boeing … because they believe we would be fishing out of the same corporate pond in the Seattle market, even if Tacoma is 50 miles from Snoqualmie.”
Through Flajole, Boeing officials said they would not comment on any prospective PGA Tour event in the area and were willing to discuss only the Boeing Classic.
Although figures aren’t published, the cost of being a title sponsor is considered to be between $2 million to $4 million for a Champions Tour event, and between $7 million and $17 million for a PGA Tour event, with the higher-profile events with larger purses at the high end. In addition to being the title sponsor of the Boeing Classic, Boeing is also the presenting sponsor (a lesser financial commitment than a title sponsor) of the RBC Heritage PGA Tour event in South Carolina.
Levine has not given up, and he believes Seattle’s best chance for getting a PGA Tour event is after 2021, when Boeing’s naming-rights deal with the Champions Tour ends. And rather than trying for a fall event, which usually has few of the best players, Levine said this area should get an in-season event.
“I feel like the best path to getting a PGA Tour event in this area is to try and convince Boeing to upgrade this event to an annual PGA Tour event starting in 2022,” Levine said. “The precedent was set this year in Minnesota, when the longtime 3M event was upgraded to a PGA tournament.”
The event in Minnesota drew top players like Brooks Koepka and Phil Mickelson and had an estimated 150,000 fans. The success of that transition gives Levine hope that the PGA Tour will eventually come to the area, even if it takes longer than he might have expected.
“It would be really good for the game of golf, and really boost the game not just in the Seattle area, but the whole Pacific Northwest,” Andrew said. “They would come from all over because we haven’t had a PGA Tour stop.”
There were seven PGA Tour players with local connections last season, and they would certainly be on board.
“I think it would be awesome if a regular tour stop was in the Seattle area,” said Joel Dahmen, who grew up in Clarkston and was one of four UW Huskies on the PGA Tour this past year. “Maybe (Seattle native) Freddy (Couples) could be the honorary host. It’s always fun to play in front of friends and family, and the Northwest guys don’t get to do that very often.”