Knoxville Open looks to rebound a second time

On the subject of how to promote business advertising for 2019 Knoxville Open, Shop Farragut/Farragut Business Alliance heard from member David Purvis, who revealed grim news about the recently-completed 2018 event.

With the event’s two biggest sponsors backing out, one just “two months ago …, the PGA put up $350,000 to make sure it happened this year,” said Purvis, a member of Knoxville Open’s Sponsorship Committee, during the Shop Farragut meeting Thursday morning, May 17, in Farragut Town Hall. “It’s about a $1 million budget.”

Patrick Nichol, tournament director the past nine Knoxville Opens who has been connected with Tour tournament operations for 19 years, said “losing a title sponsor and a significant presence hurt, but we rebuilt this thing nine years ago.

“We will rebuild it again,” he added.

Although Nichol said earlier this week, “we don’t have a contract at this point,” he added, “we’re still on the schedule for the Tour next year.

“That’s just a formality,” he added about making the Knoxville Open for 2019 official. “What we’re trying to work on is the date, knowing we’re not going to play on Mother’s Day again.

“As far as I know it would remain in May. We’re just working, as the Tour is, with some other markets nationally including where that fallout’s going to be.”

Purvis said it wasn’t just big sponsors who didn’t respond. “All the small sponsors we had, $3,000 and $4,000 and $5,000, they went away,” he said.

“… What we’re working on right now is securing five sponsors at $100,000 each,” Purvis added. “We’re in front of some people who have not been behind the tournament previously.”

David Smoak, Town administrator, said “years ago we talked to (tournament officials) about what we could do to get businesses involved. Give players like goodie bags and things like that. I think we’ve just gotten away from that,” he said. “Maybe it didn’t work, I don’t know.

“I think with our Tourism coordinator here now (Karen Tindal), hopefully we’ll be able to coordinate more with the golf tournament than we have in the past,” he added.

Pointing to the same time frame as Nichol in reference “rebuilding” the Knoxville Open, Smoak said, “The tournament first came to us when they were struggling, in 2010, asking the Town what can we do to get involved,” Smoak said. “And so, we gave them $10,000 at the time. … And over time we’ve increased that commitment.

“Certainly we think it’s a value to have the tournament in Farragut, and we want to keep it here,” he added. “It’s just a matter of getting some of these big sponsors.”

“I think that we ought to sit down and talk with Patrick,” Purvis said.

As for spectators, “Attendance last year was 40,000 people … over four days,” Purvis said. “This year it was 13,000 because the (News) Sentinel did not get behind it with articles, didn’t promote it.

“We’re in a position where we’re having to regroup on everything.”

Nichol, however, said the four-day total of around 40,000 was “inaccurate” for 2017, but may have been close to the four-day attendance “back five or six years ago ... probably when John Daly and Boo Weekley played.”

While Nichol estimated the four-day attendance in 2017 between “18,000 and 22,000,” he said the estimate of 13,000 for this year’s tournament “might be close, although I don’t know if it’s 100 percent accurate.”

Herc Ligdis, Shop Farragut president, said due to lack of interest, he “could not give away” special promotion tickets to the final round Sunday, May 13.

“I think Mother’s Day was a major factor in the timing of it,” he added. “… And we had scores of tickets left over for Thursday and Friday (first two rounds, May 10-11).”

Stephen Krempasky, executive director of Shop Farragut, said the Town’s hotels and motels “are not affected by the tournament. The Knoxville Open doesn’t increase or decrease the business.”

“I disagree with that,” Purvis said. “… There’s a number of them who do stay in hotels. If they’ve got any money, they’re winning, the ones around the top 25 (in tour earnings) are staying in hotels” versus staying with Farragut residents — many living along or near the Fox Den course.

“Not a significant impact,” Krempasky added.

“Try to figure out ways that we could get some of these players, or their caddies or the golf officials, to stay at the hotels or give them some kind of packages that would help out,” Smoak said.

“A lot of them stay at Cedar Bluff,” he added. “And when I heard that from the tournament director, he’s like, ‘they’re creatures of habit, they’ve been doing it for years and they just go to the same place.’”

“I think we need to get in front of the PGA about hotels,” Purvis said.

“Have the hotels, now, put together a package … and give that to the PGA and give that to the golfers and the caddies well in advance,” Ligdis said.

In negotiations to secure Knoxville Open as a Tour event, Nichol said he represents “the (Knoxville Open) Championship Committee, along with Bart McFadden and the Boys & Girls Club (of the Tennessee Valley).

“We will be the ones who will negotiate with the PGA Tour, to formalize everything with them and Fox Den,” he added.