Tournament will put Reno in the TV spotlight

RENO - It's a golf tournament without Tiger and maybe one without a defending champion, but officials hope the second Reno-Tahoe Open will put the area's image on the fairway.

''I think its all image, its exactly what we want to tell the world about who we are and what we do,'' said Shelli Fine, sports and events marketing manager for the Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority.

Competition in the $6 million event opens Thursday at Montreux Golf & Country Club and runs through Sunday, with practice rounds, a pro-am and other events slated Monday through Wednesday.

''Were really lucky there's so many cities out there that would kill to have a PGA Tour event,'' Fine said.

Montreux officials were hunting for a made-for-TV event for their Jack Nicklaus-designed course in 1998 when the Tour stop opportunity fell in their laps.

General Manager Stan Jaksick and Jeff Blater, director of marketing and membership at Montreux, were trying to land a challenge of eight PGA players through Peter Jacobsen Productions, which produces golf and other events.

That didn't work out, but the production company liked the course and tipped Montreux about an opening on the Tour after an East Coast event was dropped.

''Literally, just out of the blue, the phone call came that said: 'Did you know that there was a Tour event open?''' Blater said.

The opportunity arose as the area was starting to shape its new golf identity and that's when the community stepped up with the sponsorship money to pull off the event.

It gave Reno a chance to tell its story to a national audience, said Fred Boyd, chairman of the Reno-Tahoe Open Foundation. The tournament was a hit among fans and players and it finished with $183,000 profit - $100,000 of which was donated to charity.

''People don't realize it was only the second new tournament in 14 years on the PGA Tour,'' Boyd said, noting that some people urged organizers to wait until Reno could secure a date separate of a competing event that takes the world's top golfers - possibly including defending Reno champion Notah Begay III.

''We couldn't afford to do that,'' Boyd said. Sponsors agreed to try to cultivate the tournament into a Tour success story that might someday garner its own date, more stars and network TV coverage.

Last year's CNBC telecast was watched by 556,000 U.S. households, ''which is all right, that's not an overwhelming number, but its a start,'' Boyd said.

Coverage also appeared in Europe, Australia, Latin America, Japan, Canada and China, he said. There also were regular updates on 350 U.S. radio stations and 1.3 million page views per day on the PGA's web site during the event, Boyd added.

Tournament attendance was estimated at 45,000, which amounted to about 20,000 people since many came more than one day. Of the 20,000, about 14,000 were locals and 6,000 were visitors, the latter of whom spent about $5.5 million, according to research done at the event.

''Certainly wed like to see the attendance pick up and I think that will happen,'' Jaksick said. ''I think it will continue to grow.''

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