Slice of Life
Don't move the Buick Open. The last two years, rumors and planted spins have hovered around Warwick Hills like a swarm of pesky mosquitoes on the notion that the tournament may move closer to Detroit, the world headquarters of General Motors. Last summer when the rumor first arose it was somewhat dismissed by many as the usual posturing and politicking over the contract (which expires after the 2002 event) between the Buick Open and Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club. But when the rumor of a possible exit from Warwick Hills emerged again last month, one fears that Buick officials could indeed make such a bad decision. First, let me say Buick has done wonders for golf, Flint, and the PGA Tour. No company has invested so much into golf, tournaments, media buys and yes, charity, as has Buick. And that doesn't even include the millions it wisely invested last year in the Tiger Woods endorsement bonanza. Surely, there are bright, community-minded, marketing and sales minds at work at Buick. And Tony Derhake, Buick's brand manager of golf, has stated that tournament officials are not unhappy with Warwick Hills. Instead, Derhake cagily says it's just "good business" to consider other sites. In this whispered group are the University of Michigan course in Ann Arbor and Shepherds Hollow in Clarkston. But before commenting on those fine courses, let's look at "what's right" and "what's not broke" about Warwick Hills:
The course--Players and spectators almost all love Warwick Hills. For players, they find the best greens on the Tour which does wonders for their putting confidence. And the overall conditions are as good as any on Tour. Yes, it's not the most scenic, most challenging or even the most classically defined homage to course architecture. But it does work just fine for hosting an exciting, birdie-filled event. And all the TV cables are buried at Warwick and are ready to go. Any new venue has plenty of sod-busting and wiring to complete. As for spectators, Warwick is ideally designed to watch golf action. I mean, can you find a better nexus for watching golf than the shaded areas of holes 8, 17 tee and green and 9, 18 tees? I used to take my daughters to these areas--all nicely appointed with restrooms and concessions--and we walked back and forth from green to the next tee and caught all the Tour stars of the day. They were most happy little campers. In all my years covering golf, I can't think of a better area to watch golf. Sure, it's tight and crowded at times and maybe doesn't afford the most modern amenities for large grandstands and corporate boxes but everyone still seems pleased. Besides, Warwick Hills is walker-friendly. You can easily get around the entire layout without being a Tour mound-climber. Shepherds Hollow is a beautiful test of golf but I can see where it would be a tough course to watch Tour golf action with its hilly, rolling terrain. If it rains, it'll be a "slip sliding" affair. U-M is a classic layout but it would be a tame test for the long-hitting Tour players.
Volunteers--again where would you find such knowledgeable, friendly and proven volunteers as they have at Warwick Hills? The membership and community has adopted the Buick Open like a family member. Not surprisingly, the logistics and tournament organization of the Buick Open at Warwick Hills are unsurpassed. Things get done well and with a smile--who can beat that?
Community--Flint, Grand Blanc and surrounding areas have stood by the Buick Open in both the fat and the lean years. Even when the auto industry incurred one of its cyclical downturns the community has always supported the event. Galleries have been strong year after year. Millions of dollars have been raised for Genesee County charities. The Flint area has taken its lumps over the years--Buick City assembly plant is gone and the auto museum in downtown Flint was a disaster--but one entity has stood proud and tall since its birth in 1958--the Buick Open.
History--Billy Casper started it all off in 1958 when he won the inaugural $100,000 (big, big money in those days.) A few years later, my Dad took the golf-happy Moore family over to the event when he heard about the free parking and the $2 admission. That man knew a bargain when he saw one! And how could one replace such memories as back-to-back wins by Champagne Tony Lema in '64 & '65, Ben Crenshaw's inspired win in '86 with his marvelous left-handed, upside down wedge shot on 13, Robert Wrenn's torrid 26-under par victory in '87, and Fred Couplesā popular win in '94?
In sum, let me just say: Bigger is not always better; if it ain't broke don't fix it; remember the New Coke decision, and don't move the Buick Open.
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