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Knoxville Open putts out
Cavalaris reflects on demise of Farragut's grand old tournament

Chuck Cavalaris
Nick Faldo won the Masters and British Open. Hale Irwin took the U.S. Open.

Who won the PGA?

Wayne Grady.

(Yes, Wayne Grady! Who could forget those hideous polyester slacks?)

Fashion statements aside, 1990 seems like a lifetime ago. Phillip Fulmer was still an offensive coordinator. Tiger Woods was still a puppy. Titanium and square grooves were about to become household words. A lot of golfers still carried a 2-iron, for goodness sakes. Hybrid was usually mentioned in a reference to turf.

Now think about this: Just the fact the Knoxville Open is the oldest event from the original Ben Hogan Tour in 1990 speaks volumes about the determination and effort to keep a professional golf event in this community the past 20 years.

Knoxville has added prestige — and apparently some “sweat equity” from the PGA Tour — as the oldest event because it was played first in May of 1990. The event began in Farragut at Willow Creek, took a pretty big detour across Knox County to Three Ridges and has been at Fox Den the past 11 years.

Did you know that just three other original Hogan Tour events are still in existence? Tournaments in Wichita, Kan., Springfield, Mo., and Boise, Idaho, also have survived. This means 26 others went belly up. Do the math: The failure rate was 87 percent.

So many tour stops came and went that even the people in charge seem to have lost track.

Remember the Nike or tours?

Go ahead and chuckle. It’s OK.

After a remarkable first decade of consistency, change has been the norm within a tournament committee that has stayed the same in one very important way. It is revered nationwide as a role model for efficiency. You want to know how to run a professional golf tournament? Call the folks in Knoxville …

Whether it was Sandy Hull, Dugan McLaughlin, Jim Bush or Jim Wakefield, among others, people knew where to turn for guidance and answers.

Now someone might as well point a flare gun towards the sky.

Like it or not, the plug has been pulled on the Knoxville Open as we knew it. Remarkably, it took 20 years to flip the switch. For all practical purposes, the Knoxville Open has joined the steel shafts and persimmon woods. It has become a thing of the past.

It is time revamp, reshape … and re-energize. With an energy theme, no less.

Tournament officials are scrambling to help create “The Energy Classic” and take the “new” Nationwide Tour event in Knoxville to bigger and better heights.

Why not? What if you could get the marketing and educational resources of TVA, ORNL, Y-12, Pilot Oil and several others to join forces for one incredibly festive week?

Why not listen to the sales pitch about going green on the greens?

The local team has several familiar names and proven track records. It features the Knox Area Golf Charities board of directors: Jim Wakefield, Rocky Goode, Marshall Wilkins, Buck Jones and Jack Bauguss.

The committee has Patrick Nichol, director; Terry Turner, chairman; Buck Jones, manager; Justin Kropff, media; Susan Harbin, social events; Kelly Headden, hospitality; David Bunn, Pro-Am; Dave Levins, food service; Donnie Sumers, scoring; Richard Fore, parking; Lee Hoke, construction; Anne Redding, volunteer services; Ben Harkins, security; Irving Rosenbloom and Phil Mason, on-course operations.

If you want to call roll for a lot of very classy and talented people, it just happened.

They have worked night and day alongside hundreds of other volunteers and UT sport management students to take the organizational chart to the playing field. They have become the glue that was absent from other cities at least 87 percent of the time.

There’s no doubt the Knoxville Open is in jeopardy and 2010 has become the most challenging year in tournament history. With this economy, get in line and see how long it takes to hear a sob story.

The week-long event scheduled for June 7-13 also is in the final year of a three-year contract with Fox Den Country Club, which has been the host site since 1999.

You can get mixed reactions about the merits and drawbacks of having such an event every year. The course takes a pounding and increased traffic and parking can become a nuisance, especially if there’s a storm.

For now, there’s a bigger fish to fry. There’s a tournament to save. There’s a charity to help and, most of all, there’s a child that needs a reason to smile.

Developments and sponsor negotiations in the next couple of weeks are going to shape the landscape for years. The goal is to raise $800,000, but a little less would not be a kick in the pants because the PGA Tour and Nationwide Tour commissioner Bill Calfee have assumed the financial risks if the tournament finishes in the red.

It’s going to be very interesting to see who rides to the rescue and helps erase a lot of sad faces. Perhaps in 2030, somebody will look back and realize just how truly important this year turned out to be.

Chuck Cavalaris has written about the Knoxville Open since its inception in 1990. Chuck can be reached at 865-692-6950.


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