March 22, 2006
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA
BOB COMBS: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to The PLAYERS Championship, and we very much appreciate you being here as always. We have a briefing from the Commissioner about THE PLAYERS Championship, both what's current to the tournament, and this year we have as you know some significant changes for 2007 and beyond to talk about. Also welcome to our fans listening live this morning on PGATOUR.com.
Without further ado, Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem.
TIM FINCHEM: Thank you, Bob. Let me just start by welcoming every everybody here. We are delighted to have you with us again this year. We have the possibility of great weather all week, which will be somewhat unique given the last few years. The golf course is in as good a condition as it's ever been. It's tough to go out there and look at it and think that we're going to tear it up in a few weeks.
We had a good overseed and a warm winter, and the new irrigation system, all of those things combined have given us superb conditions. If the weather cooperates, we should have firm and fast conditions for the first time in a few years, as well.
And of course, we're delighted with the field. I would just comment, first of all, looking backward, that the three key things over the years that have built THE PLAYERS Championship into what it is today starts with the depth of the field, playing on this golf course, and then the champions that the competition has generated.
Those three things have really underpinned, I think, a growing affinity between the fans around the country, around the world and the players. In recent years, we've added to that mix two solid sponsors in PWC and UBS which assisted us in our ability to promote THE PLAYERS through the course of the year, prepare for THE PLAYERS and improve the staging for THE PLAYERS.
We have been here at this golf course for 25 years. This is our 25th year, and we now are looking to next year to be sort of a threshold year where we make a number of changes. And I'll just give an overview of those, and then be happy to answer your questions about them after I make a comment about the FedEx Cup next year.
I think the changes next year start with television, that's the most dynamic. Next year we go to a limited inventory commercial presentation which we think is fundamental to the quality of the experience that our fans will enjoy as they watch this field on this golf course going forward, four minutes of inventory each hour. It will make for a superb telecast, all of it on HD television on the weekends, and later air times. Later air times will allow us to achieve or reach to an even greater audience at a time of year in May when a lot of people are playing golf, when a lot of our fans are playing golf.
We are delighted with the television position. I think if we didn't do anything else, the quality of our broadcast and the way it's going to be reached or received by our fans around the world is going to be very special.
The second thing, of course, is the date change. The date change affects the golf course and television. By moving to May, we have later air times, we have more daylight, we can play later, which translates into better television, we can reach more people. We have warmer weather and drier weather, which means we can prepare the golf course in a more consistent fashion and keep it firmer and faster at a much higher percentage of the time combined with the changes we are making to the golf course.
And those two things, primarily, are the benefits of allowing us later air times, allowing us better conditions for the golf course, and I suppose an advantage is also that as we get more and more people that are coming to THE PLAYERS from around the country, frankly year in and year out, early May is a more enjoyable time here in northeast Florida than some periods. In March, we have some great weather years, but we also have some bad weather years like last year. We like the date change, we like the position on the schedule and we like what it does for our ability to set up the golf course and for television.
The third thing is the work we'll be doing on the golf course itself. We will be resurfacing the entire golf course except for five of the fairways that we've already done in testing in the last two years. All of our fairway areas, and some of our rough areas will be sand capped. All new irrigation will be installed, ten miles of irrigation piping below that sand cap, which allows us we think better agronomic conditions generally, and the better drainage allows us in the fairways and rough to get out quicker should we have weather, and we do have the occasional thunderstorm. We'll have sub vac air with sensors that will measure the salinity of the soil, help us monitor agronomic conditions, and in the event again of rain it allows us to get our greens back very quickly to get play back out on the golf course. The rain delays we would have normally will be greatly shortened.
The bottom line is, we can challenge the players much more effectively we know with much more firm and fast conditions. As a matter of fact, in the studies we have done over last ten years, the difference between a generally soft golf course and a firm and fast golf course is an average of five shots in the winning score, and about the same in terms of the overall scoring average.
So it's a significantly different situation on a golf course that was literally built on a swamp, to be able to drain it and keep it firm and fast. And the weather conditions, along with the re do on the golf course, will increase our opportunities to do that.
The golf course work will commence soon after THE PLAYERS. We'll be shutting down the clubhouse, of course, to take it down here in two weeks. We hope to open the club again in November, which will give us significant time between re opening in May, to evaluate the grass conditions, to work on conditioning and bring the golf course along as we prepare it for the second week in May.
The practice facility here will be totally redone. It will be expanded, improved for THE PLAYERS, better viewing for the spectators during tournament week, as an adjunct, we will be adding a golf academy with indoor and outdoor hitting facilities. For our players, as most of you know, we have a couple of dozen of our players that live here now and we have dozens more that come in frequently during the course of the year to use the facilities here to practice. Most of our players feel that this is as good a place to practice as there is, and we're going to enhance that further as we rebuild a practice facility, short game areas.
The putting green areas, the current putting green will be moved over toward that lake area, and expanded. There will be a fourth putting green added, the one behind No. 1 tee will be expanded and there will be yet another one behind No. 10 tee to facilitate putting preparation as the players prepare to take off during Thursday and Friday's portion of the competition.
I think we'll have a practice facility that is absolutely superb. And again, our efforts are designed to give the players the best possible competitive experience during the competition, and also in terms of preparing for it.
In terms of fan enhancements, what we will be doing, since we are going to be tearing things up, we are going to be doing a lot of work to improve the mounding and staging for the fans, the bleacher areas, the mounding areas around a number of holes. We'll be enhancing the main entrance behind No. 17, we'll be adding a fan village back there that we think the fans are going to find a lot of fun and interesting.
We will inaugurate and launch our new on site fan communication technologies, new scoreboards, new video boards, new leaderboards around the golf course. We don't think there will be a place a fan is where they cannot take note of what's going on. There will be a lot more of our information kiosks around the property. In other words, there will be a broad based way in which we integrate communication with the fans electronically during the course of the week.
Parking, we will improve the parking lots, the enclosed parking lots here on site so that we don't lose them in case of a bad thunderstorm as we have suffered the last few years. We will be adding off site parking areas to the north and to the south off of Butler and off of 210 to the west. In those areas, we will be shuttling fans, gradually increasing the number of shuttled fans. This will allow us to take our current cap off of the galleries. We artificially cap our ticket sales and our galleries. We can handle more people, we just can't park them.
Each year, we have a growing number of people that want to come here and that want to get tickets. We hear from people all over the country. We want to make THE PLAYERS Championship available to fans around the country that want to come here and watch, and to do that, we have to increase our parking capacity, and we will do that significantly over the next five years. Starting with next year, we'll be able to handle another 10,000 people next year, and probably more after that, as we upgrade our off site parking. And we'll have more to say about off site parking during the course of the next year.
And finally, the clubhouse. This clubhouse has served us well. It's 25 years old. It is functionally okay, but it space wise is antiquated. We just cannot do what we need to do for our partners, UBS, PriceWaterhouse, we'll be adding a third here to be announced in a few weeks. Appropriately, we can't handle the field size adequately for our players in the way that we would like to.
So we are taking down this clubhouse, and as we are doing it, we'll be building a clubhouse that we think is more in theme with the area and the region and will become over the years an integral part of the look of THE PLAYERS, utilizing a Mediterranean revival type architectural design.
The zone of the clubhouse is designed on creating the best possible experience for the players and our sponsors and their guests during the course of the week, and then the other 51 weeks of the year, a superb experience for our customers and members from around the country, as well as being able to serve the other 51 weeks of the year as a place that the community can use for a good deal more functions than are currently available to the community.
It will be significantly larger, but we think it's going to have a great atmosphere and a great feel, and we will obviously use it with probably 70,000 people coming through there every year. We'll use it to tell the story of the history of THE PLAYERS.
The clubhouse will actually come down about ten feet. The base floor will come down about ten feet, and the parking lot will be raised. The other reason we're doing that is because we wanted the reconfigured clubhouse to be something that integrates better with the grounds around it so that it's not the elevation we currently have wastes a lot of space on the sides of those rises. It's not functional. We wanted to take advantage of that room and be able to integrate the movement of people better in through the clubhouse, whether it's a player to play or customer or clubhouse badge holder to get in and out of the property.
As you watch it come out of the ground over next year, you'll see that there was a lot of attention paid to that part of the equation. All in all, we think the infrastructure improvements will be good. But the fundamentals, really, are, again, the quality of the telecast and the quality of the golf course. Those are the main things. The other things are very good and they are going to help improve the feel and texture of THE PLAYERS Championship going forward, but you wrap it all up, and I think we're going to take a nice step forward next year.
Before I answer your questions about THE PLAYERS, I will make a couple of comments about the FedEx Cup season. We're very excited about the addition to the improvements at THE PLAYERS and the changes in our season next year, the new schedule. We spent a couple of years in planning our new schedule for television. Our focus was to try to raise a year long competition and focus on the season in the week to week aspect of the competition and balance that better against some of the bigger tournaments that occurred during the season so that the fan is more captivated week in and week out.
To do that, we will inaugurate the FedEx Cup, the season long competition. The details of the Cup are being worked out. We anticipate announcing the details around the 1st of July or the middle of July and spend the rest of the year explaining the details to all of you, the fans and people around the country, around the world.
The other piece of the equation that we're looking for is a way to improve and use the ending of the season more effectively. So the way the new season will set up, really, is our Fall Series in the fall is really the beginning of the season. It sets up the eligibility to participate in the FedEx Cup. And then the Cup will conclude with the TOUR Championship, and for the first time in golf, we will have playoffs, four straight weeks of all the top players playing head to head, having been seeded from points that they accrued starting the first week of the year and going through the week after the PGA Championship, our tournament at Greensboro. All of the tournaments will be seeded; they will go into a four week playoff head to head and we think it's going to be tremendously exciting and add a lot to the to the texture of the season and allow us to accomplish our mission.
We'll have a lot more say about this later. I just want to give you the heads up that a lot of work is being done on this now, and we'll be in a position to answer questions about it this summer.
With that said, we're delighted to have you here, we're anxious to get going tomorrow, and I'll be happy to try to answer your questions.
Q. When all is said and done and all of these changes are made, from the playing surface to the clubhouse to the change in May, how do you think that sets up the tournament for how it's perceived in the pecking order of the other big events in golf?
TIM FINCHEM: Well, we already think it's No. 1 (laughter).
You know, I've answered this question so many times. I think the way I've always answered it is pretty much the same. Our objective is to make THE PLAYERS Championship as good as it can be, and if we go to bed every night thinking we've done everything to do that, we should be comfortable.
Stature is something that we don't determine, others determine. At some point along the way in the '50s, stature meant calling The Masters a major. At someplace along the way earlier than that, the Western, which had been called a major, wasn't called a major anymore. Sometime around 1960 when Arnold Palmer wins at St. Andrews and the modern Grand Slam was sort of inaugurated, people sort of started talking about the British Open as a major, although it wasn't until the 1990s that we recognized the British Open as official money on this Tour and took steps to recognize it greater, even though it was clearly recognized as a major. So these things move around.
Again, I think our job right now is to continue to build THE PLAYERS and make it as good as it can be and probably work harder to connect with fans about it.
We were watching a film last at the Past Champions Dinner about the shot making that these champions have conducted over the years, and I continue to believe that stature also has to do with people growing up watching things. And when a player like J.B. Holmes was 13 watching Freddie Couples make eagle at 16, and that generation grows up, I suspect that that will also impact on the stature of The Players. Where that leads, at least at this point, I'm not in a position to predict.
Q. Two questions. The obligatory one, what is the prize money this year?
TIM FINCHEM: $8 million.
Q. There's been some talk about The Championship Series, some players feeling that if they don't particularly play those courses well, what kind of an advantage or disadvantage they are at. I wonder if you can talk about that, and also the possibility of any of the three rotating around, course wise.
TIM FINCHEM: I think we've already said generally without officially announcing, because we are not done quite yet, in the third one, the Western Open, currently the Cialis Western Open, it will most likely rotate in and out of Chicago every year and be played on a multiple number of golf courses. We'll have a formal announcement probably within six or eight weeks on the details of which, but they will be world class venues.
In New York, I think I've said this before publicly, we are in discussions with Westchester where we've historically played the Barclays Classic to change our arrangement with Westchester so that we can rotate in and out of Westchester. And if we do that, we would take advantage of some of the other great golf courses in the New York area.
And in Boston, we're not nearly as far along at Boston, but we are going to at least explore the possibility of occasionally playing another golf course.
Atlanta at THE TOUR Championship, we would intend to play East Lake every year. But all three of the others may rotate. I suspect that it is very likely that at least two of those three will, in fact, rotate.
And there are two reasons for that. One is that we feel like in a place like New York or with The Western, for different reasons The Western used to move around those western states for years. It has a heritage of doing that and its relationship with the scholarship program; it is multi state in base. So it works for them, and it allows us to create a sense of bigness to the tournament by moving to some other great golf course.
In the City of New York, if we were successful in a metropolitan rotation, again, we think it would allow us to build a bigger tournament. At the same time, the other reason for moving in that direction is as you say, there are a lot of players who feel like there is so much on the line in these playoffs, it would be unfortunate if we were locked into the same golf course every year at all of them and didn't have a flavor of different kind of golf courses that might reward the playing styles of different kind of players.
So we recognize that. And we think having the players very, very supportive is important in anything we do in the game, and they are very excited about this, but they want to see parity in playing opportunities. So that is a factor and we're working through that right now and we'll have more to say about that.
Q. Is there a concern about the Chicago tournament that three out of every six years, there would not be a PGA tournament in the nation's third largest market, that you would not have an event?
TIM FINCHEM: I don't think that would be the case because of other tournaments that come into Chicago. The PGA Championship has been I think on a regular rotation to Medinah; there's been some talk that the Ryder Cup might come to Chicago. We're not overly concerned that the best players in the world won't be in Chicago on a regular basis, may not be there every year. I suspect over time it will be more often than every other year.
Q. Is it your sense on TOUR that there's a feeling among players of helping rebuild the city's efforts by participating in this year's tournament (in New Orleans)?
TIM FINCHEM: There were two things we were focused on there. One was trying our best to be able to play when a lot of other sports, for whatever reasons, losing their stadiums, were not going to be in a position to play.
But then, secondly, we started to focus on the opportunity to tell a positive story through the tournament about the future of what's going to happen in New Orleans, and that's why we moved our Commissioner's Cup early in the week, which is the CEOs of 50 companies that do business with us, major companies, and we will do a half a day. We will do a half a day briefing is that right?
BOB COMBS: Yeah.
TIM FINCHEM: I have to get up to speed. We do a half day briefing with state and local folks so that these companies can understand the vibrancy of what's happening in New Orleans and what the upside is, instead of what we see in the newspaper all the time, whether the dam has really been fixed and isn't it a shame how the Federal Government bungled dealing with it. You don't really see the activity that's going on.
We want, through that briefing, and have Rudy Giuliani as our guest speaker for that, seminar if you will, to talk about what can happen. And then on the telecast that week, we will sort of tell that story. And so we want it to be an upbeat, positive message, and we're delighted to be able to participate in that.
Q. But do you feel a sense that the players by their participation feel that they can help rebuild or help the efforts of the City of New Orleans?
TIM FINCHEM: I think so. The quality of the event will also send the right message, too, that business as usual is returning to New Orleans. We're all worried about the tourism side of the equation in New Orleans, and not just the infrastructure getting rebuilt. That tourism needs to come back and be able to demonstrate we've got good quality golf facilities through the golf tournament, which is a big reason we have the tournament there anyways, is an important message as well.
Q. I think I threw this at you last week, but is there any more that's been nailed down with the back end of the schedule for next year? There are still a lot of people looking for time slots and sponsors, in the Fall Series.
TIM FINCHEM: Fall Series?
Q. Fall Series.
TIM FINCHEM: We are anticipating at least six, at least six events, conceivably seven. Five are done; two are announced, I think; three are not announced. They will be announced. We are working on another. Washington, D.C., is one possibility for another. We're still in discussions with potential sponsors in Washington. Booz Allen you may have seen decided not to extend, but they are going to stay in the tournament at a fairly significant investment of $1 million or more a year and that's helpful, but we still need a sponsorship. There are different and exciting things that are happening.
If Washington were not to work out, and we think it probably will, there are some other options for a sixth and possibly a seventh, but five of those six are now firm and will be announced within the next 60 days.
Q. Do you have a big year ending gala thing planned to sort of sort of an ending with the TOUR Championship? Is there going to be sort of a bigger exclamation point than in the past?
TIM FINCHEM: Possibly. But we cannot configure the dates for that series we have the tournaments. We can't complete the dates until we know let's say that Washington wasn't the sixth but Fort Myers was. It would be a different weather situation as to where we play. We have to get a schedule done first and then look at those things like how we are going to promote and build.
Again, this is going to be a second half of the year exercise and that's why we want to get this thing done by sort of the May time frame.
Q. This course by modern Tour standards is not very long as Fred Funk proved last year, and this tournament has a history that you don't have to be a bomber to win here. Why hasn't this tournament followed the trend of extending courses to extreme length?
TIM FINCHEM: Well, I'd say the fundamental reason is that we recognize that the fans like watching this field play this golf course. To me that's the fundamental. And you have to be sensitive to that as you look at, you know, making this change or that change or where the ball is going or the fact now that we may have firmer, faster conditions. And so we have been we have been, I would say, knowledgeably and aggressively reticent, if you will, to make those kind of changes. That's the number one thing.
The second thing is, I think we do like the notion that we have the deepest field in the game from A to Z, and virtually every one of those players can win. We would not want to move drastically away from that.
Having said that, we have been looking at changes for a number of years, and we have made a few changes. I mean, we've moved a few tees over the years. But when we move a tee, we're not moving a tee because we're exasperated that a player is hitting a 7 iron versus a 5 iron. We are moving a tee because the shot values off the tee need to have more challenge; or, that if it's a par 5, that the percentage of players who are trying to reach have gone too far and it's just a common situation where a mid iron is reaching the green effectively. 16 is a good example of that.
I would say we err on the side of being very deliberate in evaluating those kind of changes. As we tear up the golf course, you would think, well, if you're going to make them, make them now. Here again, we've done some assumptions on what firmer and faster conditions mean in terms of the playability of the golf course. I would say now that we have not made any final decisions on this golf course and we won't until after this week's tournament. We'll make some adjustments, but in many cases where we might assume or many would assume we should make adjustments we may very well wait until after the first year of the May situation and verify how the golf course is going to play.
The other thing is that we don't want another answer to your question, frankly we're not excited about changes in the golf course being the story at any point in time. We want the golf course and the history of the golf course to be the story and not that myself or some group of people or some group of players got together and decided that it was a golf course that needed to be significantly changed. We don't see that.
However, again, I think, again, there will be adjustments made, they will be very deliberate and we will do those over a number of years.
Q. The new schedule in 2007, have you given any thought to the introduction of a drug testing regime, and if not, why not?
TIM FINCHEM: Have I given any thought to?
Q. The introduction of a drug testing regime on the PGA TOUR, and if not, why not?
TIM FINCHEM: We have given a lot of thought to drugs. You can't not think about drugs with what is going on in today's sports. Our policies currently are if you're talking about steroids as an example, steroids are an illegal drug. I have authority of my board to require a test of any player who I have reason to believe or our team has reason to believe is using illegal steroids.
We are not opting for and by the way, I have no material information that that is the case with any player. We see no reason to jump into the testing arena at this point without having any credible information that we have issues.
In golf, a player is charged with following the rules. He can't kick his ball in the rough, and he can't take steroids. We rely on the players to call rules on themselves, and if you look at our Tour over the years, many players have, to their significant financial detriment. That's the culture of the sport.
Having said all of that, if, if, if we were to develop any basis upon which it was reasonable to assume that we had widespread steroid use or steroid use of any significance, we would not hesitate to engage, but it would not be a program that you and the public would look at and say, well, this is sort of a halfway program. It would be a program that would determine for sure that we did not have a problem.
Q. There was a document published a year ago, an advisory drug testing document. Have you seen this document?
TIM FINCHEM: I don't know which document you're talking about. I've seen a lot of documents.
Q. Can you discuss the challenges of coming up with a points system next year that will get players to play as much as you'd like them to, and also, do you have any thoughts on if certain events between this one and the majors will give more points than regular tour events?
TIM FINCHEM: Well, I think on the points system, the important thing about the points system is what are you trying to accomplish with it; and the secondary thing, okay, how many points are here and there. I think that's what your question addresses.
The other thing you should recognize about the points system is this is a system that we receive input from players, from tournaments, from sponsors, from television people, from some of you, because it needs to be a system that is readily understood; it needs to be fair; it needs to be a system that at the end of the day when the seedings are done this is important. When the seedings are done, most people, not everybody agrees on anything, but most people look at those seedings and nod their heads and say, yeah, Darren Clarke I used this example in a meeting the other day, Darren Clarke is seeded No. 7. That makes sense given how he played this year.
So it needs to be a system that, based on play, seeds players consistent with how they play. We think it needs to be a system that's cumulative in points, not average points like the World Rankings, because we are not comparing play around the world like you have to do in the World Rankings. This is a system for the members of the PGA TOUR that are competing, and they all have access to the same events. So it could be cumulative, which makes it easy to understand.
Now if all those things come to pass and the seeding differentials, that is to say, if you're seeded 1 and I'm seeded 2, you have an advantage and you have a bigger advantage over No. 3 and No. 4 and No. 5. Inherently it's in your interest as a player to play at a level, and, to some extent, to play the number of events that will put you in the best possible seeding posture going into the playoffs.
All of that I think we will accomplish. There will be arguments around the edges, but we'll basically accomplish it. Do I think it will affect players' schedules? I think that two things will happen. I think you will see some players play more in the base season. I think the players who have historically played in the fall will play in the fall. I think we'll see probably less European players in the fall because some of their bigger events are going to move back into the fall in Europe, and THE TOUR Championship isn't there to pull them back.
Other than that, I think the fall will probably be as good as it's been. There may be some more starts in that base season; I suspect there will be.
The other thing I suspect will happen is that because, if you look at our schedule, week in and week out, we have a lot of tournaments that are improved; they are in better weather, they have better sponsors, they have better facilities, and they will be part of a points system that's cumulative. So if a player is encouraged to move his schedule around, I think he'll be more open to doing so, and we've had some success with that in the last three or four years, but I think the FedEx Cup will help us in that regard, and that should be very helpful.
Q. Can I just follow up on a very provincial question? Do I take it to understand that Washington is now in danger of not having a PGA TOUR event in 2007?
TIM FINCHEM: I wouldn't call it in danger. Every tournament has to have a sponsor, and we went through the period of talking to Booz Allen and we had very positive discussions with Booz Allen. We maintained a very solid relationship with them there and I think it was excellent of them to offer and commit, actually, to be a million dollar supporting sponsor.
Now we have to arrange for a title sponsor position. I have every reason to believe we will do that, but until it's done, it's not done. But we have all the elements in place and I think we'll be in good shape in Washington and look forward to that situation.
Q. Is there a timetable for that?
TIM FINCHEM: There's no cutoff date, but we really need to be well along the way in discussions by the May time frame because we feel like when we turn the corner the 1st of July, we need six months to really promote what we're doing. The fall could slide a little bit further simply because it's later in the year, but it would be better if we were promoting the entire schedule effectively, and that's been our history.
BOB COMBS: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much.
TIM FINCHEM: Thank you.
End of FastScripts.