Originally created 05/07/02

PGA Tour to return to Charlotte next year

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The PGA Tour hopes the combination of a big purse, good scheduling and strong corporate backing will mean a successful return to Charlotte with a tournament announced Monday.

The $5.6 million Wachovia Championship is scheduled to debut May 8-11, 2003, at Quail Hollow Country Club, where the Kemper Open was played until 1979 and a Senior PGA Tour event was held until last year.

With the winner guaranteed a $1 million prize, the new tournament is expected to attract a strong field. This year, only The Players Championship, with a $6 million purse, offers more prize money.

The tournament's timing - about a month after the Masters and just as players are starting to gear up for the mid-June U.S. Open - also should help attract top golfers.

PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem announced the new tournament at a news conference with Wachovia president and chief executive Ken Thompson.

Charlotte-based Wachovia, which last year merged with First Union to become the nation's fourth-largest bank, signed a four-year deal to sponsor the tournament.

"It was just a natural, I think, for Charlotte to be the new spot on the PGA Tour calendar," said Mac Everett, head of corporate and community affairs for Wachovia. "And the timing of it couldn't be better."

The tournament is to make its debut around the same time Wachovia and First Union expect to fully convert to the Wachovia name.

Describing Charlotte as "golf country," Denver-based sports marketer Dean Bonham said the region is a natural for a PGA Tour stop.

"I predict a long and very profitable relationship between Charlotte, Wachovia and the PGA," Bonham said. "There's hardly anything negative that you can say about that deal. It's a win-win-win."

The private Quail Hollow club is located on Charlotte's south side and includes Arnold Palmer among its 300 members. From 1969 to 1979, Quail Hollow was home to the Kemper Open; Palmer was host of a Senior PGA Tour event there from 1980 to 2001.

The course was redesigned several years ago by architect Tom Fazio and will be tweaked again for next year's tournament, organizers said.

With the NBA expected to approve the relocation of the Charlotte Hornets to New Orleans on Friday and NASCAR suggesting it may move its all-star race, The Winston, from nearby Lowe's Motor Speedway, Monday's announcement was good news for Charlotte sports boosters.

"In the recent past, it's been easy to find negatives about what's been going on in Charlotte sports," Charlotte Sports Commission president Jeff Beaver said. "I'm hoping maybe this will change that and get things started on the positive."

Everett, who was involved in a business community effort to keep the Hornets in Charlotte, said he does not look at the golf tournament "as an offset at all" to the Hornets' departure.

"Certainly we would have loved to have kept the Hornets here," he said. "But we were going to try to do this regardless."

In its first year, the tournament will benefit the group Teach for America, which sends college graduates to spend two years teaching in public schools in low-income communities.


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