Buick to scale back on courtesy cars at tourneys

Twenty years ago, it was not unusual for most players to arrive in town and rent their own cars. Joey Sindelar, who now plays on the 50-and-older Champions Tour, recalls dragging his golf gear through the airport to get a rental car, paying for practice balls on the range and getting concession coupons for meals.

Players now have a car waiting at the airport, and a tournament volunteer drops them off at the airport at the end of the week.

"We've been so lucky out there,'' Sindelar said. "I hope this is an attention-grabber.''

Kym Hougham at the Wachovia Championship, which has some of the biggest perks of any event, has had a deal with Mercedes-Benz since its inception in 2003, first through a local dealership which has become a regional contract.

Even so, he can see other tournaments having to tighten their finances.

"We all had it good for awhile and it was on cruise control,'' Hougham said. "Now we've got to get creative. We all try to do as much as we can for the players, and they've come to expect it. Like anything in life, it's hard to take something back.''

The deals with Buick varied with tournaments.

In some cases, the company provided 180 courtesy cars and a cash donation, receiving spots in the pro-am for Buick clients, car displays throughout the golf course and hospitality tents on the 18th green. At the John Deere Classic, Peterson said Buick donated a car for auction in its "Birdies of Charity'' program.

Gerald Goodman, tournament director at the Transitions Championship, said Tampa Bay is the 10th-largest market for Pontiac-GM-Buick dealers and he usually had more than 200 cars. Now he is working with 14 local dealers, hopeful that GM might still offer incentives for the dealers to provide them to the tournament, then advertise them at reduced prices with minimal mileage.

Otherwise, he might try to strike a deal with a rental company, especially with the tournament coming less than two months after the Super Bowl in Tampa.

"We're searching,'' Goodman said. "I'm completely positive I can get us a car deal. I haven't thrown in the towel.''

How the players respond to the changing economic climate is what concerns these tournaments. All the younger players know is being catered to from when they get off the plane to when they return to the airport.

"The pendulum is swinging in the other direction,'' Peterson said. "How far it goes is the unknown.''

Kevin Sutherland finished a career-high 18th on the PGA Tour money list this year with just over $2.5 million. He has been on tour a dozen years and can remember times when he rented his own car at an airport.

"I expected some of the perks we've gotten in the past are going to be cut back, and it only makes sense,'' Sutherland said. "It's easy to take this for granted. You show up, you get your car. You bring in your dry cleaning, they do it for you. Some of this stuff is over the top, and you get spoiled over time. But so many companies are struggling.''

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