Priceless: Senior tour lets fans in free in Minn.

Priceless: Senior tour lets fans in free in Minn.

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Admission to this year’s 3M Championship? Priceless.

Oh, and there’s no charge for the parking, either.

The Champions Tour will offer free admission for the first time at the 3M Championship next month in Minnesota, a plan announced Thursday by director Hollis Cavner in appreciation of the strong support fans and sponsors have shown the event since it started in 1993 as the Burnet Senior Classic.

The Arnold Palmer-designed Tournament Players Club Twin Cities course, located in the northern Minneapolis suburb of Blaine, is now the annual site of the tournament, held this year from July 10-12.

Though the TPC connection has a positive influence on their feelings, players on the 50-and-over tour voted the 3M Championship as their favorite event last year.

With first-come, first-serve daily space for 20,000 vehicles, which could translate to double or triple that many people, the galleries should be packed that weekend and provide the golfers with plenty of energy to feed off.

“I think it’s tremendous,” said Fuzzy Zoeller, who will play in his seventh 3M Championship. “Hat’s off to Hollis for a great idea. … The only free admission I remember is family tickets. Everybody’s going to feel like they’re a family member, so that’s wonderful.”

The total attendance record for this tournament, according to officials, is 183,000 in 1996. That includes practice rounds.

“I would hope that there’d be more people there,” Zoeller said by phone. “The key is we want everybody to bring their kids out.”

The Twin Cities area will host the PGA Championship this summer at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, one reason for Cavner’s desire to waive the admission fee, normally $30 per day and $100 for the whole week. (Access to special areas will still have a fee.)

The slumped economy is another factor, with extra spending for entertainment slowed while families struggle with job losses and pay cuts.

But Cavner insisted he wanted to do this just as much for gratitude.

“The people supporting us for so long are now hurting a little bit,” Cavner said by phone. “It’s great to give back.”

After encouraging results from a test of the idea he conducted for the Friday round of another tournament he runs in Boca Raton, Fla., Cavner decided to pull it off here. He said the tournament will still donate more than $1 million to charity, and an expected revenue shortfall of up to $250,000 has been covered through extra corporate help.

“People who know me know I’m big into sales,” Cavner said, laughing. “Leaving money on the table is not something we want to do. We can afford it. If the tournament were struggling, I wouldn’t do it. I just couldn’t.”

Adam Sandler’s lead in the 1996 comedy Happy Gilmore showed, with slapstick exaggeration, what a rather lively gallery in the subdued game of golf can look like. Cavner said he thinks the movie is “one of the great flicks of all time” and that he wouldn’t mind the same kind of vibe on the course next month.

“I hope people go crazy and everybody comes out,” he said. “As long as they love golf, we want them there.”

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