Monday, March 17, 2008

Perplexing News: Safeway Out at Superstition Mountain

The Safeway International is one of - in my opinion - the best non-major events on the LPGA schedule. Gets a lot of fan support and community backing. Now, though, Safeway has backed out as sponsor to concentrate on their tournament in Portland, the Safeway Invitational, that they have sponsored for much longer.

Despite attracting the largest crowds on the LPGA, as well as all of the top female players in the world, the East Valley event will be looking for a new sponsor in 2009, said Tom Maletis of the Portland-based Tournament Golf Foundation.

Safeway had been the sponsor for the past five years at Superstition Mountain, but the latest two-year extension ran out this year.

Maletis said that while the Pleasanton, Calif.,-based grocery chain will end its role in Arizona, it will continue to sponsor the Safeway Classic in Portland. TGF owns and manages both tournaments.

“Both tournaments had grown to the point that, to really ensure that the level of quality be maintained, they needed to concentrate on one event, and that will be the tournament in Portland, where they have been a sponsor for over 15 years,” Maletis said.

Both events seem to attract good LPGA Tour fields, so Safeway isn't picking a winner or loser here per se. But, 151,000 people came last year to see Lorena win. That kind of attendance outpaces a lot of PGA Tour events. Why the change then? Methinks you can blame the economic downturn/recession.

Maletis acknowledged that the economy “is a little tough these days,” but he declined to comment on Safeway’s current state of economic affairs, which included a 400-person layoff in February, including 70 administrative personnel.

“I think it’s more about wanting to enhance the tournament in Portland,” he said. “From that standpoint, we are moving the 2009 tournament there from its long-time venue at Columbia Edgewater Country Club to nearby Pumpkin Ridge, where they’ve held two U.S. Opens.”

That's a bit of a bombshell in and of itself since I love Pumpkin Ridge.

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