February 19, 2002
JAMES CRAMER: Thank you for your support of the Accenture Match-Play Championship. Commissioner Finchem has a few comments to make, and then he'll be available for questions.
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Welcome, everyone, to the Accenture Match-Play Championship. I'm here, actually, to answer questions, so I'll just make myself available. Since I'm going to do that, I thought I would start off making an update on the World Golf Championships, PGA TOUR, SENIOR TOUR, BUY.COM TOUR, and then open it up to questions.
First of all, we are delighted with being back at La Costa this week. We have, obviously, a terrific field. I think it's a testament to the quality of the World Golf Championships and to the players' interest in this format that every single player is here except if they were injured.
We have great weather forecast for this week. The golf course is in good shape. I was out with some players during the course of the day, and everything is on a go and we are looking forward to a terrific tournament.
Overall, at the World Golf Championships, you should know that this year, we will be increasing the prize money from $5 million to $5.5 million at each of the official money events at the World Golf Championships. The prize money to the winning player in each of those three will remain at $1 million.
At the end of 2002, we will have played the World Golf Championships, at the end of these first four years in seven different countries, which is a testament to international flavor of the World Golf Championships.
We are looking forward, later in the year, to being in Sahalee for the NEC Championship, and going to Mexico for the World Cup, the EMC2 World Cup, and of course, going to Ireland, Mount Juliette, for the American Express.
The overall situation of the PGA TOUR with the West Coast Swing is probably the most interesting we've had in the years that we've had the West Coast Swing. We've got, I think, 15 players coming into this week who are in contention and are in position and could conceivably win the West Coast Swing. So, in addition to everything that's happening with this championship this week, we're also, obviously, interested in the outcome of the King of the Swing competition in that regard.
Let me make a couple of comments generally about the PGA TOUR. First of all, I'm talking about the overall PGA TOUR now. Just a couple of brief comments.
One, we are delighted with the quality of the fields we are seeing. Every indication is that, here again this year, we will have for the fifth straight year a reduced number of conflicting event requests. We will have more players playing -- we'll have players in each category, Top-10, Top-30, Top-50, Top-70, Top-125, playing more tournaments. We have the highest percentage we've ever had of the players ranked in the World Golf Rankings, and we have virtually almost every top player worldwide playing, if not as a member, but playing a fair amount on our tour. All of that adds up to strong fields. And when you combine that with the kind of quality that we are seeing from the younger players coming up behind Tiger and Phil and David and others, it all adds up to an extraordinarily positive field structure and field strength, which creates real value for our sponsors and for our tournament structure.
The second thing I would mention, to take your attention just for a minute back to THE TOUR Championship, I talked at that time about the challenges we had faced in terms of renewing all of our title sponsorships or replacing title sponsorships. I would report at this point that we're making great progress in that regard. Obviously, we have announced a number of extensions of current title sponsors. We're having, I think, good success in renewing title sponsors.
As I said in November, however, given these economic conditions, with the number of companies that are failing, we will have, in addition to the normal turnover that we've had every four years, we will have probably slightly more turnover, and that is occurring.
However, I think I can state again that in my judgment, we will be 100% fully sponsored for 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, which is the period of time of our new television agreements, and that's how we extend our tournament agreements and our title sponsor agreements.
Beyond that, each of the weeks that we've played this week, our crowds are up, our television ratings are very positive, and in spite of the changes in the NFL's schedule, which was competitive, the Winter Olympics and everything that's going on, we are very, very pleased with the strength of what we are seeing. Again, I think that is a tribute to the quality of the fields and the players who are playing.
Just a note about the Senior Tour. We announced to all of you last fall that we would be making a variety of changes in the Senior Tour for 2003 and we would be testing a lot of those changes in 2002; that is occurring in terms of creating a better fan experience at Senior Tour events, and creating a situation where we can instruct and reach people, the fans, with instructional information. The early indications -- these are very early indications -- it's like being around on election night and you have just a few precincts in, but the early indications are that these changes as they are very, very positively. Our television ratings are up a couple of notches. Our crowds are up significantly the first few weeks. The media exposure has improved. The overall climate on the SENIOR TOUR has improved to where we now believe that some of these changes are really working. Obviously, our objective is not to fix the SENIOR TOUR. It continues to be structurally very strong, but to give it the ability to better compete in this very difficult and challenging and competitive marketplace for more interest. That's hopefully what we are going to do.
Finally, on the BUY.COM TOUR. I will just mention briefly that we announced our schedule. It's available to all of you for the year. Our prize money is up a little bit this year. We have a very solid schedule. We have a good television package with the Golf Channel and we will be kicking off the schedule, as you know, in Australia and New Zealand.
Our litigation with BUY.COM has been settled to the satisfaction, certainly, of the Tour, and I think of BUY.COM. We will be keeping the name BUY.COM on this tour until such time as we might replace them in the future, and certainly no later than next year.
That's all I have to say. We had a board meeting in the last couple of days and covered a variety of topics with the players and our board. But all in all, I think when you stand back and look at where we are as a sport, especially in light of these economic conditions, we are doing very, very well, we are very pleased, we have a lot of momentum, a lot of progress going on, and we are changing. I think, in this world, if you don't change; if you stand still, you're falling back. So we are changing and getting better at what we are doing and making good progress.
So with that said, I'll be happy to throw it open to questions and take whatever questions you have on hopefully any subject.
Q. Talking about this event, where do you see this event being slated next year, and do you think it needs to be either maybe in California or Florida to kind of make sense with where the rest of the tournaments are?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: We know that from a date standpoint, we are in this week, as we are able to define this week, each of the next four years.
We plan to play in the U.S. market each of the four years. There are a lot of things we really like about being here. We have some other options.
Right now, our first objective is to look at staying here, and, of course, this facility has changed ownership just in the last several weeks. So, we are determined to wait until we get through with this week and sit down with the new ownership and talk about the future. But we have other options, as well, and we'll work through it with Accenture and see.
Based on our history here, the golf course is solid for the tournament. The players seem to like it here, and obviously, the weather works quite well.
One of the things about it, when we were in San Diego at the old Mercedes Championships, it was a little early to be here. So the weather here this time of year works better, but there are other options. We'll have to work through it the next few weeks.
Q. With all of the issues about the clubs and what is allowed, what is not allowed, at what point will the PGA TOUR get involved in terms of whether or not you guys might help set rules with clubs and equipment?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, I think where we are on-- that is we are strongly advocating to the United States Golf Association and to the Royal and Ancient is that they work together to create a new, independent global body or entity that would be charged with the responsibility of making the rules of golf as they relate to equipment. This body would have to have the funding to do the appropriate testing of equipment, obviously. I assume that some group of all of us in golf could muster the requisite funds on some basis.
What I've articulated in those conversations is: I think the current system is inefficient on its face; that to have two groups writing the rules instead of one for a global sport doesn't seem to us to make a lot of sense.
No. 2, it has -- that system resulted in two sets of rules in at least one case, which causes us some difficulty in terms of competition on a global basis.
No. 3, there needs to be a philosophy about equipment, from which equipment rules emanate, as opposed to looking at this equipment rule and that equipment rule, there needs to be an overall philosophy; so that the average golfer can understand why rules are being made. I think that's kind of been missing from the equation. I think the chances of that happening are probably enhanced by having a new entity do that. It could also happen with the existing structure, but I think it needs to happen.
I would also say that in terms of the new entity, another advantage would be just a fresh start. Whether we like it or not, you know, we could stand a fresh start with a new level of confidence in an independent body that was global.
Now, that's just a suggestion. The current system could be, I think, handled better. I think the USGA recognizes that. I think the USGA and the R&A are trying to make sure that we don't get a different set of rules again. But I do think that in the long term, it would be important and helpful if those changes were made.
Now, your question was to what extent would we be involved in that; I don't know. If the USGA and the R&A determine that they wanted to work together on a new structure, we would be available to assist in whatever way was appropriate. We don't feel like we have to be involved directly for it to be effective, but we could be.
On balance, we would prefer to stay out of the rule-making structure as it relates to equipment. But if it became important for all of golf to come together in this or in some way, we could do that. And there are other advantages to that step.
That is our current position. Aside from that, we are also continuing to suggest to the R&A and the USGA that they renew their efforts to negotiate an agreement on the COR rulings and come up with one rule.
Now, none of what I've said relates to what we believe philosophically about what should happen with the rules, because frankly, we think what we believe should happen with the rules is second in importance to having a structure that makes sense to deal with the rules operating from a stated philosophy of why equipment rules are important in the scheme of things to the game of golf, how they react to the growth of the game.
We understand that there are concerns about, for example, distance, and other equipment changes that have created changes in the game. But on the other hand, we understand there are concerns about limitations on those changes which might effect the enjoyment level of the game. Some people would argue to the extent of which the game would grow. All of that needs to be carefully reviewed and taken under consideration, and the USGA and the R&A currently do that.
But I think that having a new system might be the most prudent effort for everybody.
Q. It's taken them a while to do something on this. How long are you guys willing to be patient for them to have some sort of agreement?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: Well, I think we are patient. First of all, we are not in a position to insist on anything, except to say that we would go off and do a different set of rules for golf at the PGA TOUR level, which we've always reserved the right to do.
One of the reasons this continues to be a debate is that some people are concerned about technological changes. Others argue that the game has never been healthier. They are both right. So, I don't think it's something that has to be dealt with tomorrow. I think we can work through it as best we can. I do think that in terms of, again, this new entity, that the efficiencies that might emanate from the new entity in terms of coming to terms with rules, changes or not changes as it relates to a stated philosophy would be a positive thing with regard to efficiency and taking action, if action was necessary.
Q. Are you speaking on behalf of the PGA TOUR or on behalf of the International federation?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: In this instance, I'm speaking on behalf of the PGA TOUR. But the Federation is also on the record in favor of this general concept. I think when we speak as a unit, we do it on paper; so I'm not speaking for the other tours. That's not my position.
Q. But it has been discussed?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: It has been discussed and we are on record to encourage those bodies to at least look at this option. But we are not on record insisting on anything; there's a distinction.
Q. What can you say about the settlement and how it affects the Tour's?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I believe Co-Chief Operating Officer Ed Moorehouse is here and he might be able to better articulate that. But we are not in any way restricted from the settlement or from that provision in our rules. The way our regulations read is that we will play by the rules as approved by the United States Golf Association, provided, however, that we reserve the right to alter those rules as we see fit. In fact, historically, the PGA TOUR has done that.
There are some examples, one example is the one-ball rule. The one-ball rule started on the PGA TOUR. Is that a fair statement?
ED MOOREHOUSE: And specifically, regards to litigation, we set up an advisory committee and they will go out and select information and solicit the industry, but it is up to the PGA TOUR Policy Board to make up whatever rules they want and we retain the right to do that.
Q. Are you happy with the pace of play? We saw some 5 1/2 hour plus rounds at the Nissan, and there's a player, Sergio Garcia that takes 20, 25 waggles before he hits the ball. Does that concern you?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I think pace of play has concerned everybody in involved in our sport for the last 30 years, maybe 50. Let me put it this way: We provide playing opportunities for as many competitors as we possibly can, most virtually every week of the year. There are a few exemptions. But basically, we are playing 144, 156. We might reduce it a little bit for daylight. So we are putting an awful lot of people on the golf course. In that format, in that structure, with the tee times structured the way they are, it takes an inordinate amount of time to move those people around the golf course. That's just the reality.
You can massage it around the edges and you can get out there and push and you can have sanctions and you can do all of these things, but when you have 156 people on the golf course, it's going to take, typically, a lot of time to play.
Now, in addition to that, lately, in the last few years, there are other factors that have come into play somewhat around the edges that have perhaps slowed it down a little bit further.
But to pick out one player and say, "This player has a slow hot pre-shot routine," does not really relate to the question of pace. Pace has to do with maintaining your position in the group with that group ahead of you.
You can cite players who move quickly to get in position, take a little bit extra time over the ball, but rarely put their group in a position of getting out of position or create a situation because they move quickly. Typically, some players may have a combination of slow preshot routine and they are not ready to hit the shot.
It's just like when you go out and play; you're frustrated when you're playing with somebody and it's their shot and they are not ready to hit the shot, then they start fiddling around, going through a preshot routine or getting information.
When a group is out of position, we have provisions which were strengthened this year to react to that situation. Getting a group in position, again, is not going to really dramatically change the amount of time it takes to move the numbers of people around.
Consequently, if you are really going to dramatically change the pace of play -- the place of play, not waiting, you've got to reduce field sizes. Historically that is not something we have had significant appetite to do.
On balance, we would like to maintain the numbers of playing opportunities, but, it's something that's always discussed. It's not inconceivable that we would not change sizes of the field in the future. It's a matter that's under discussion, matter of fact, this year at the Player Advisory Council Board, and we'll see.
Q. The Match-Play has had its own unique challenges. Do you see those --?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: What could you possibly mean by that? (Smiles).
Q. Cutting the field in half on Wednesday. Do you see that as something that's just part of the game, and that this has been a successful portion of the World Golf Championships?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I think it has. The players love this competition. That's first.
Secondly, I think the fans get interested in the competition very early in the week. I think the fans to some extent because -- to a great extent, because of your efforts, have the great opportunity to really look at the entire field in perhaps ways that they normally don't. With the Top-64 players of the world, you've got some interesting match-ups, developing a history of how different players perform and play in match-play, which was missing for a good number of years at this level. As you go into Wednesday, you're looking at all of these different match-ups, and you're learning more as a fan and about more players than just who the top three or four on are on Saturday and Sunday.
So it maintains a thread back to the days when a lot of our significant championships were competitions in match-play, which I think is healthy for the sport. It puts a player in a different strategic frame of mind, a lot of times, which I think is good to watch and see. So there are a lot of advantages to it and I think it's important.
I think on balance, it's been a very, very good development.
Q. How much has attendance ranked in the overall picture? Obviously, the TV has been very good. The struggle to sell a large amount of tickets out here, how much is that a part of the big picture?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I don't think it's the greatest thing in the world to play a couple of weeks away from one of the more popular events that are much more centrally located in population centers; that doesn't help matters.
But I this we'll have good galleries this weekend, and I don't think the galleries are a problem. There are different places we could go, markets where they don't get a chance to see PGA TOUR golf every year and we'd have more people, but that's not a determining factor, I don't think.
Q. Have you heard from other golf courses, like Torrey Pines with their South Course this year, Riviera has lengthened their course this year -- is Westchester? Is that distance and all that kind of issue getting debate more through the regular tournament versus just PGA and U.S. Open sites?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I think that any golf course that hosts a TOUR event has hosted major championships, wants to host a major championship, wants to host a World Golf Championship; and is aggressively focused on that, is looking at the setup of their golf course and the ability to challenge players who have current capabilities, however they achieve those capabilities. It's a top, top issue with virtually every golf course where we play.
How you adjust the golf course to provide equitable challenge to the field is a matter of a lot of debate. At least from our players' perspective, we are delighted that by and large, the marks that they gave, the changes at Torrey Pines and Riviera were essentially very, very positive. A few criticisms, but, you know, this is a critical group.
But largely, very, very positive and that's helpful.
Q. Steve Stricker is 60th in the world and there was the possibility that he may have missed this event. Any discussion about changing the format to at least allow defending champions to return if they could not qualify normally?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: There may have been discussion; I haven't heard it. I think it's really important to this event that No. 1 come in and play No. 64, No. 2 play No. 63. I suppose could you make a case that the defending champion could be an alternate after No. 64.
But we have a winner every year at the Mercedes championships in a tournament that's comprises tournament winners of the prior year, and if a player wins that week, he's back.
At the NEC, it's possible, but unlikely. THE TOUR Championship, unlikely, but it's possible. I don't know. Something we could talk about.
Q. The decision by the Honda Classic and Shell Houston Open to move away from Tournament Players Club venues, does that reflect negatively on the TPC brand?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I don't think so. I think the TPC brand is very, very strong.
In the case of Houston we had a licensed policy. We did not build, operate or own at the Woodlands. It was an arm's length license for a number of years. We had discussions from time to time to build a TPC that we would own and operate; they never materialized. So we are certainly not troubled about leaving the Woodlands.
With regard to Fort Lauderdale, there were a variety of reasons for the thinking behind moving the tournament. We think it's a fine golf course, and the question isn't whether the golf course reflects negatively or not. The fact that the tournament play left that site, you know, that will be ancient history in six months. We have played tournaments at some of the best clubs in America and tournaments are not there anymore. So I don't think that in and of itself is particularly negative.
Q. Regarding the move at the Woodlands, that's going to end a quarter-century relationship there, I wonder what pluses you would cite for a move that's been fruitful for both sides?
COMMISSIONER FINCHEM: I think the tournament's history at the Woodlands has been very positive. I think it's a good, solid tournament golf course. It's in great condition virtually every year. It's held a tournament quite nicely from a staging standpoint. That's all very positive.
On the other hand, where do we want the Shell's Houston open to be in five or ten years, and how can that happen. That now is the question. And moving to Red Stone golf Club has an enormous array of positive things that will allow the Houston Golf Association in partnership with Shell to grow that tournament. I think it's going to grow very nicely in the next five or ten years. I'm very excited about the move to Red Stone. I think it's a big plus for that tournament and will develop to be a very big plus.
So, yes it's been good at the Woodlands. I believe it will be better yet at Red Stone.
JAMES CRAMER: Commissioner, thank you very much.
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