Wichita’s golf tour stop will return in 2014 after finding enough sponsors

The Air Capital Classic golf tournament will be played for the 25th time in June and at least two additional years with the financial backing of a new presenting sponsor and 22 community business leaders who have joined the event’s recently formed Ambassadors program.

Air Capital Charities co-chairman Jack Pelton announced a three-year extension for the Tour event at a luncheon Tuesday. Renamed the Air Capital Classic this year, the 2014 tournament will be the Air Capital Classic presented by Aetna.

Brad Clothier, Aetna’s Kansas-Oklahoma market president and a longtime tournament supporter, concluded the luncheon with the announcement of his company’s sponsorship deal through 2016. He declined to reveal financial terms, but Aetna’s support will be significant for an event that had been facing an uncertain future for most of the year.

Tournament director Roy Turner thanked the individuals who signed agreements to support the event – played annually since 2001 at Crestview Country Club – as Air Capital Ambassadors. The community-based program, which features $15,000 and $30,000 annual sponsorship options, was introduced to fill the void of former title sponsor Preferred Health Systems, which contributed more than $4 million to the tournament and its charities from 2002 to 2012.

The Ambassadors that Turner recognized Tuesday signed two-year commitments and have generated more than $300,000 for the tournament.

“The Ambassador program got us to where we can make this work,” said Turner, who has spent most of the year courting prospective contributors. “I think the Aetna involvement makes us say, ‘I can’t just make this work. I can really make this work.’ ”

Tournament officials signed a deal last week with the PGA Tour to continue the event through 2016. Dates of the 2014 tournament have not been finalized, but it will be played in June for the fourth consecutive year. The Air Capital Classic has a three-year agreement in principle with Crestview, the last key piece of paperwork to be completed.

Wichita is one of four remaining tournament sites from the PGA Tour developmental circuit’s inaugural year of 1990. The other sites are Boise, Idaho; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Springfield, Mo. The Air Capital Classic’s past champions include major championship winners Tom Lehman, David Duval, David Toms and Jason Dufner.

“We are very excited about today’s news that the tradition of bringing the Tour to Wichita will continue for a 25th, 26th and 27th year,” Tour president Bill Calfee said in a news release on the PGA Tour’s website. “Wichita has been with us since Day 1 and has played a big part in shaping the growth and success this tour has experienced.”

During August and September, Clothier pursued the possibility of Aetna’s involvement with the tournament as a presenting sponsor. Aetna completed the acquisition of Coventry Health Care and its local health plans in May. Clothier, a former executive with Preferred Health Systems and Coventry, joined Aetna in May.

“I’ve been working with the PGA Tour trying to get this solidified while Roy was working very feverishly on getting all the Ambassadors,” Clothier said. “He needed to, because with me being part of a new company, we didn’t really know what their philanthropic appetite was for this. But they were like, ‘We are all in.’ ”

Through a series of meetings with local business owners, Turner and Pelton found a similar chorus. Turner told the luncheon crowd he approached each meeting with information on the tournament’s $4.5 million economic impact to the city, more than $1 million in charitable contributions since 2006 and the benefits of the Ambassadors packages.

“I do believe this is one of the things we can really point to in the city of Wichita where we’re really bringing the focus to the community on a much larger scale,” said Don Henry, chief executive officer of Appearance Group and Air Capital Interiors and one of the Ambassadors. “I think at some point, all small businesses have to look at themselves and say, ‘What am I really doing here to support the community?’

“This reaches a level where a small business can participate, and I think that’s important.”

Turner and Pelton said the courtship of potential Ambassadors would continue, and retention will be a key focus of the program. Both were eager to celebrate their announcement on Tuesday.

“We’ve been on a roller coaster that’s gone all the way down and now it’s all the way back up again,” Turner said. “I think we’re as high now as we were low back then.”

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