SYLVANIA, Ohio (AP) — The Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic may be the next LPGA tournament to miss the cut.
The Farr, named for the actor who played a reluctant corporal on the classic TV series “M.A.S.H.”, is being played for the 25th time – and possibly last – this week at Highland Meadows Golf Club in suburban Toledo.
“I don’t know what the intricate details are, they’ll have to figure those out,” Jamie Farr said Wednesday before hurrying out to play the pro-am. “We have a 50-50 chance of being here next year.”
The Farr’s $1.4 million purse is among the smallest on the LPGA tour. In tough economic times, tournament officials have pared between $450,000 and $500,000 this year from an already bare-bones budget. The contract with the title sponsor expires after this tournament.
The LPGA had 34 events last year and that number is falling.
Organizers of the two-year-old Kapalua LPGA Classic in Hawaii announced Tuesday that financial problems would cause them to pull out of the last four years of their contract with the tour. LPGA officials threatened to pursue “legal remedies.”
The LPGA Corning Classic in Corning, N.Y., ended in May after 31 years when its title sponsor called it quits. Along with the Farr, the Michelob Ultra Open’s future in Williamsburg, Va., is also uncertain.
Farr tournament director Judd Silverman remains upbeat.
“I’m very optimistic. We’ve been in this position several times before through our 25 years where we’ve had to negotiate new contracts,” he said on the eve of the opening round. “We’re going to roll up our sleeves with the LPGA and both parties are going to have to work hard to find a livable business model during some very tough economic times.”
He said the Farr tried to spread the sacrifices around. The pro-am gift packages aren’t as big, fewer bleachers were set up and past champions were not provided with courtesy vehicles.
Despite that belt-tightening, no one knows if there will be a 26th Farr. The LPGA and Silverman will sit down after the tournament to discuss the event’s future.
LPGA officials at the tournament site did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
If the Farr tournament leaves, it’ll be another blow to the city that supports it. With its close ties to the auto industry, Toledo’s economy is in rough shape with an unemployment rate just under 13 percent.
Over its history, the tournament has donated $6.2 million to about 100 charities.
The primary charity, the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northwest Ohio, gets about eight percent of its annual budget from the tournament.
“They’ve been very kind to us over the years,” said Chad Bringman, executive director.
Losing that money could force the organization, which provides family members of hospitalized children a free place to stay and eat, to cut services, he said.
“We would have to make a stronger pitch to families that use it that we’re hurting and could really use a donation,” Bringman said. “We’re already looking at what we would scale back.”
Silverman said if the tournament cannot meet its obligations to local charities, it’s not likely to stay afloat.
Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner can’t fathom the loss of the tournament.
“It would be hurtful to the community’s pride, but I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Finkbeiner said. “The LPGA has come to appreciate how much this city pours into the event and its love for Jamie Farr. When it comes to volunteers and love for an event, I think we rank right up there.”
Associated Press Writer John Seewer in Toledo contributed to this report.