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Colonial Suffers from PGA Success

Golf gets very little "clock time" on the Sports Economist, so here goes. The Dallas Morning News' Kevin Sherrington writes today about the growing irrelevance of the Colonial Tournament. He offers some comments from two time winner (and Western Kentucky alum) Kenny Perry as to the Colonial's demise. In Sherrington estimation, two other factors stick out -- players' negative reaction to the Annika affair and Tiger Woods' absence.

Example No. 1: Bank of America's enduring legacy as title sponsor will be 2003, the year of Annika. "It was an exciting time, a unique time in Colonial's history," said Marty Leonard, who sits on the club's board and once sat on her father's lap as they watched the pros play the course he built. "And not everybody liked it." Count Singh among the latter. Of all critics, he was the most vocal in saying Annika Sorenstam shouldn't have been allowed to play, adding that he hoped she'd miss the cut if he did ...But Singh hasn't come back. Neither has Price, who called Annika's appearance a publicity stunt. Probably didn't help that she stole all the attention the year he was defending champ.

Example No. 2: Some guys hold grudges. Take Woods. Early in his career, he made it clear to all tour stops that he was week-to-week deciding where he'd play. But after a Colonial release that he was contemplating coming to Fort Worth, he's never been back.

These influences, along with scheduling relative to the big tournaments, likely help divide up the field and audience among the mid to lower tier events on tour. From an economic point of view, it is interesting that the presence and status of legendary founders of events influences field participation. Living and active legends such as Nicklaus and Palmer may be able to exert just enough of a nudge to help swing players to the Memorial and Bay Hill. As legends became inactive, such as Byron Nelson, their influence fades. The death of the legend-founder, such as Ben Hogan with the Colonial, spells trouble.

In the bigger picture, the primary influence on the struggles of tournaments such as the Colonial is simply the effect of income. When growing up in North Texas thirty years ago, a lot of the big names came to Dallas and almost all to Fort Worth, in part, because they played a larger number of tournaments. Nicklaus was really the only one who might skip one or the other on a regular basis. As golf purse money and endorsement money have grown in real terms, the top players opt for more leisure time while still earning much, much more than their PGA predecessors.