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Buick to scale back on courtesy cars at tourneys

(AP) — In another sign of fragile financial conditions, some PGA Tour events are trying to figure out transportation for players after learning over the weekend that Buick will not be providing courtesy cars to most tournaments next year.

"We've already started scrambling to try to approach local dealers or national suppliers to see if they're interested,'' said Clair Peterson, tournament director of the John Deere Classic. "The car industry as a whole is in a tough spot. We've already had one company tell us everything has been frozen in '09.''

Other tournaments that Buick will no longer supply include the U.S. Bank Championship in Milwaukee, the AT&T National in Washington and the Transitions Championship outside Tampa, Fla. The Shell Houston Open remains hopeful of keeping its Buick courtesy car deal.

The Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles had a deal with Nissan, its previous title sponsor, that expired last year. Tournament director Tom Pulchinski said he tried to arrange a deal with Buick and was turned down.

"The business model has changed,'' Pulchinski said. "It's definitely going to be an expense. We probably would provide cars, even if it's a rental deal where we pick up the cars and foot the bill. We talked to Buick, but they could not swing it.''

Buick is the official car of the PGA Tour and for years has provided courtesy cars to a majority of tour events. But General Motors posted a $2.5 billion quarterly loss earlier this month and has said its cash burn has reached the point where it could have the minimum amount required to operate by early next year.

"We're taking a hard look at everything right now,'' said Larry Peck, golf marketing manager for Buick.

He declined to discuss which tournaments have lost courtesy car arrangements because nothing has been finalized or announced.

"Most of those deals are regional offices, which are in a similar position with everyone else,'' Peck said. "There are budget cuts. Every line item where a dollar is spent is getting a lot of scrutiny. I can tell you it has not all been finalized. But some will be cut back. We have to look at things differently.''

One tournament official, speaking on condition of anonymity because Buick has not made an announcement, said four tournaments will continue its deal with the company, including the two Buick-sponsored events.

PGA Tour spokesman Ty Votaw said that number was not consistent with the tour's conversations with Buick.

Other tournaments have their own deals, such as the Memorial (Lexus), the Wachovia Championship (Mercedes-Benz) and Colonial (Cadillac), along with those tournaments that have automakers for a title sponsor (Mercedes, Honda, BMW, Chrysler).

That leaves other tournaments in a precarious spot. They compete with each other for the best field, but having to provide courtesy cars is another expense in their shrinking budgets, which likely means less money for their local charities.

"We're looking at alternatives,'' said Dan Croak at the U.S. Bank Championship. "It's certainly great if tournaments that don't have them come up with a suitable solution. But it becomes someone's expense.''

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