The future of Wichita’s annual professional golf tournament on the Web.com Tour will be shaped by a series of meetings between tournament officials and prospective financial sponsors over the next few weeks.
Air Capital Classic tournament director Roy Turner and Jack Pelton, co-chairman of the board that oversees the weeklong summer event, will take part in at least 15 meetings with business and community leaders to pitch an ambassador program designed to diversify financial and charitable support for the tournament. Some of those meetings already have taken place. Five are scheduled for Tuesday.
“We need to get a little bit of momentum going with people making decisions,” said Turner, the tournament’s director since 1999. “We’re going to be very active in basically seeking people to join our Air Capital Ambassadors program.”
The Air Capital Classic, played at Crestview Country Club, is one of four tournaments that have existed throughout the 24-year history of the PGA Tour’s developmental circuit. In 2012, Preferred Health Systems ended a 12-year run as the tournament’s title sponsor. During that time, PHS provided more than $4 million in support to the tournament and its charities.
To try to fill the void, Turner introduced a community-based sponsorship plan in March, seeking $30,000 annual contributors with a two-year minimum commitment. A $15,000 sponsorship option was added in June. Both options provide widespread tournament exposure, while the more expensive plan includes additional daily tickets to corporate hospitality areas and entries for two teams in the pro-am event.
As the Web.com Tour works toward finalizing its 2014 schedule, Turner said he would like to have 15 ambassadors on board to help offset the tournament’s $730,000 in annual operating expenses. Since this year’s tournament in June, two sponsors have renewed at the $30,000 level and four new sponsors have pledged $15,000.
“We have some good prospects, and we’re nipping away at it,” said Pelton, former CEO of Cessna Aircraft Co. “I think we’ll get it done. It’s a challenge to get to that number of companies we need to replace that title sponsor.”
Part of the tournament’s allure in recent years has been the festive par-3 17th hole on Crestview’s north course. Local businesses have used the double-deck hospitality chalets to entertain clients, and the hole has become renowned for caddie races, free cheeseburgers for birdies and a streaker two years ago.
The fun doesn’t come cheaply though, and Turner said he and the Air Capital Charities Inc. board will meet soon to discuss $500 increases in the hospitality areas and pro-am fees. That would raise the entry fee of a four-person pro-am team to $6,000 – still $1,000 lower than the fee for the Wednesday pro-am at this year’s Midwest Classic, a Web.com Tour event in Overland Park.
“Those aren’t really ways that we’re making up the difference in not having a title sponsor,” Turner said. “It’s just the cost of doing business, and we still feel like those are pretty good deals.”
Among those confident the Air Capital Classic will mark its 25-year anniversary next summer is Tim Iley, the Web.com Tour’s director of tournament business affairs.
Iley, based out of the PGA Tour’s headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., said he will travel to Wichita soon to assist Turner and board members with presentations to prospective sponsors.
“This tournament is one of our originals,” Iley said. “It’s been a great event for us. We’ve watched it grow over the years, and our players really enjoy it.
“The ambassador program provides a good opportunity for a lot of community businesses to get involved, not just for one year but for multiple years and really take ownership in it. We’ll always help tournaments look for title sponsors or presenting sponsors, and if that happens, great. In the meantime, we expect the Air Capital Classic will keep chugging right along.”
Iley said there is no set date for announcing the 2014 tour schedule, due to “multiple moving parts” like new tournaments, television exposure and travel considerations for players. The announcement will likely come in October, and if the Air Capital Classic is part of it, Iley said, it will likely be in June for the fourth consecutive year.
“Once their contracts are signed, tournaments don’t have to wait for us to come out with our full schedule to announce their dates,” Iley said. “That helps them with marketing and sales. To me, it’s a no-brainer for Wichita to host in June.”
The tour prefers three-year commitments on tournament contracts. Regardless of the time frame, Crestview Country Club general manager Ken Nicholas said the club is on board to host the tournament for a 14th year and beyond.
“We’re able to do it and make it minimally invasive,” Nicholas said. “There is a burden on members, but with two courses, we’re equipped to handle it. By and large, our membership is very supportive.”
One of Turner’s goals in securing the tournament’s future is to avoid sacrificing the quality of the experience for golfers and spectators. It is something he plans to use as a selling point during upcoming meetings with those he hopes to bring on board.
“I think a fair way to do this in this community is to get everybody involved,” Turner said. “It makes it a harder job for me. I’d love to just talk to one person and boom, it’s done.
“What the tour wants, and what a lot of people in this town want, is to keep it going and keep making it better. It’s the class and the quality of the event that makes it what it is.”