Group tries to save Reno-Tahoe Open |

Group tries to save Reno-Tahoe Open

RENO (AP) – Leaders of the Reno-Tahoe Open are searching for a new title sponsor for the smallest market stop on the PGA Tour.

The group is composed of state Sen. Randolph Townsend, R-Reno; Jones Vargas lawyer and lobbyist John Sande; and Jana Smoley, the marketing and sales director at LakeRidge Golf Course. The three have taken on the duties of former tournament director Michael Stearns, who resigned in October.

The tournament’s 2008-09 title sponsor, RED Development, committed to a two-year $1.6 million deal with an option for a third year. While the tournament did well in promoting the new Legends at Sparks Marina project, the company says the tournament used too much of RED’s marketing budget.

“We have not officially passed on it, but we have also asked them to shop it around to see if it is a better fit for someone else,” said Dave Claflin, RED’s vice president of marketing. “I think anybody would know that budgets are tight these days.”

The group seeking new sponsorships is targeting Northern California CEOs and major executives in the banking industry, food and beverage businesses, computer companies and the medical community.

Casino properties in Reno-Lake Tahoe area are not being considered because of PGA policy.

The regional focus is probably the only way to go, given the poor economy, said Mike Mazzaferri, past president of the Northern California Section of the Professional Golfers’ Association of America.

“I like that strategy. Money is not flowing like it normally does right now,” Mazzaferri said. “It was easy to get title sponsors for regular PGA Tour events in the past because everybody was doing so well. Right now, unless you are able to do something specifically for their business, they are not spending the money.”

It might take a creative sponsorship to reach the level it will take to grow the tournament, Smoley said.

“If we could find one person to become our title sponsor, that you could give the naming rights of the tournament to, that would be our goal,” Smoley said. “But we are not stuck on a piece of paper. We are trying to be as creative as we need to be.”

Discussions have already been held between the RTO and Professional Golfers Association of America, said Rick George, the tour’s chief operations officer.

Townsend said a title sponsor for any other PGA tournament would cost about $10 million. The PGA would not disclose how much each of its title sponsors contribute to their specific tournaments.

Claflin said finding a title sponsor for $2.5 million is possible, even though RED Development is not looking to repeat as title sponsor.

“I am not trying to be Pollyannish on this, and I realize that everybody is really evaluating their budgets,” Claflin said. “But I still think, even at $2.5 million, it is a relative bargain in terms of a PGA sponsorship.”