PGA mum on status of tournament

A PGA Tour official Friday declined to comment on the status of a tournament planned for October, one day after Fresno City Manager Andy Souza told the City Council the event will not be played.

"For all intents and purposes, the 2007 event will not be held in Fresno," Souza told the Council on Thursday.

The 72-hole tournament originally was scheduled for Oct. 22-28 at the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course in the Running Horse residential project in southwest Fresno.

However, Running Horse's original developer ran into cash-flow problems last year and only two holes have been completed. PGA Tour officials have scouted the Fresno area for an alternate course but have yet to announce one or whether the event will be moved to another city.

Souza sounded optimistic the event will be in Fresno in 2008 and beyond. Souza called Fresno "the last viable location for the PGA that has gone untapped. ... Everything we have been told is it won't be in Fresno in 2007, but it will be here in 2008."

Souza added that the PGA hasn't announced this information because it still hasn't found a 2007 location to replace Fresno.

In closing the discussion, Council Member Larry Westerlund said, "It's a tremendous opportunity that we missed out on this year."

Westerlund then withdrew his motion, already postponed twice, made in mid-May that would have asked staff to come up with a plan to possibly use city money to help fund a portion of the shortfall in this year's $4.5 million purse.

If the tournament isn't played in Fresno this year, the decision would conclude months of effort to save a troubled event.

Tom O'Meara, Running Horse's original developer, began last year trying to sell the project to someone with deeper pockets who could get the course built in time to host the event.

O'Meara had no success, and he sold the debt-ridden project to Mick Evans about two months ago. Evans' Manteca-based golf-course construction company is owed about $9 million for work on the project.

Running Horse filed for bankruptcy protection on April 27.

Another challenge for the tournament was a purse that was about $2.4 million short of being fully funded. Regional business and government leaders in early April started a grassroots campaign to raise the money and keep the tournament in Fresno. Among the early contributors was the city of Clovis, which set aside $24,000.

Steve Geil, chief executive of the Economic Development Corp. serving Fresno County and a leader in the effort to raise the purse money, said Friday a one-year delay may be a blessing.

Ideally, Geil said, the Running Horse course would have been built on schedule and tournament officials would have had more than a year to properly prepare for the inaugural event in 2007.

Instead, Running Horse's lengthy troubles led to a situation in which community leaders unexpectedly found themselves hustling to save a tournament that wasn't their responsibility -- and with only months to do it.

"It would've been a disaster to put on an annual event in only five months," Geil said.

Geil said community leaders want Fresno and the PGA Tour to have a solid, long-term relationship. He said the big challenge isn't funding the purse, but getting a Tour-qualified course built by next year.

"This gives us more than a year to prepare for '08," Geil said.