Backspin: Tours stunned by sponsor pullout

Sergio Garcia

The economy and pro golf collided at full speed last week, leaving visible holes in the game and frayed nerves everywhere. The Ginn Company, the Florida-based real estate and resort developer, pulled its sponsorship of the Ginn sur Mer Classic (PGA Tour), Ginn Championship (Champions) and Ginn Open (LPGA), and all three tours expressed dismay at the sudden withdrawal.

"We had no forewarning that Ginn was planning to cancel the 2009 Ginn Championship at Hammock Beach," the Tour said in a statement, while LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens said, "We are extremely disappointed and surprised by yesterday's announcement... . We had been led to believe by the Ginn Company that the event would be held as scheduled in 2009."

Ginn president and CEO Robert Gidel found the statements disingenuous, saying, "We've been working with these people for more than a year, actively seeking subsponsors and new sponsors and hiring outside firms to help reduce costs. You get to a point where you can't keep talking. You have to do something. It wasn't a surprise."

Asked about the contention that Ginn had promised that the '09 events were safe, Gidel let loose. "Unless everyone else lives in a different world than we do — and we're in the center of the financial meltdown — we would love to say, 'I'm going to do that and stick with it.' But we wake up every day and deal with the world we're in. We all want to be successful, and this whole thing is sad and embarrassing to even have to talk about, but we've had to make some really horrific decisions."

It may not be that simple, though. Ginn's contract with the PGA Tour runs through 2011, and its LPGA deal covered 2009. Ginn's move undercuts the contention that binding arrangements would see pro golf through the downturn and raises the possibility of legal action. "They have to do what they have to do," Gidel said, before adding, "It would be unfortunate." Later that afternoon the PGA Tour announced that it was suing Ginn. The LPGA has had no further comment.

• Word on the floor at last week's PGA Merchandise Show had it that Nike plans to distribute thousands of red T-shirts that say "SUNDAYS ARE BACK" at the tournament site when Tiger Woods makes his return from knee surgery. Nike wouldn't confirm the promotion, nor would it say when Woods will tee it up. Whenever that is, it could be the first time in years that Woods steps on a course and blends into the crowd.

• Vincent Johnson, a first-year pro on the Gateway tour, will play in the Northern Trust Open Feb. 19-22 at Riviera Country Club near Los Angeles after being awarded the Charlie Sifford exemption, named for the PGA Tour's Jackie Robinson and given to a player who advances diversity in the game... . He may have skipped the FBR Open, but Jim Furyk still won on Sunday. The lifelong Steelers fan, who had gone to six games this season and both playoff appearances, was in Tampa for Super Bowl XLIII.

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