Slice of Life: The Buick Open to Remain at Warwick Hills
Just in from the Very Good News Department: sources have indicated to me the Buick Open will remain at Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club in Grand Blanc at least until 2004 and with indications pointing toward an eventual 2006 contract extension.
What a difference a year makes. That's what I was thinking the other day in sizing up the prospects of Warwick Hills continuing to host the Buick Open. Last August, I wrote a column entitled, "Don't Move the Buick Open." Along with a number of other golf observers, I was worried that Buick executives were going to pull up the gallery stakes-and-rope from Warwick Hills (the site of the Buick Open, along with Flint Elks CC, since 1958) and move to another venue closer to Detroit or Ann Arbor.
When looking at all that Flint and Warwick Hills have contributed to this tremendous event for over 42 years, I couldn't see how such a move could be justified. I mean, the Flint community has supported the Buick Open (and its variations) in stellar fashion even in the lean years of the auto industry; Warwick Hills members have provided expert and continuous leadership; volunteers have been plentiful, energetic and experienced; local and regional charities have been supported handsomely; the course itself has always been fan-friendly, has a rich tourney history (see Billy Casper, Tony Lema, Dave Hill, Hale Irwin, Ben Crenshaw, Fred Couples, Justin Leonard, Rocco Mediate, Kenny Perry) and has invariably been in world-class condition with some of the purest greens on Tour. Oh yes, and a large majority of the Tour players feel right at home at Warwick Hills.
On this last point, a number of Tour players came to the vocal and local defense of keeping the Buick Open at Warwick Hills. Said the widely respected Peter Jacobsen last year at the tournament: "This is really the way the PGA Tour started-with communities like this supporting their events completely, with a lot of heart and soul. It would be very sad to see it move, because the golf course is so good and community supports it so well."
Looking at all these factors, why would someone want to fix something that wasn't broken? Well, one year later, it seems that the threat of losing the tournament has abated. Sources close to the Buick Open have told me they expect the tournament to remain at Warwick Hills until at least 2006, if not longer.
A host of reasons have led to this sudden reversal of fortune for Flint and Warwick Hills. First, the current Buick Open contract with Warwick Hills is good until 2003 (the option year exercised by Buick) with indications given by reliable sources the contract will be extended until 2004 (following the pattern set by Buick with Westchester CC, site of the Buick Classic) sometime soon or during the 2002 event. Those same sources indicate that the contract could well be extended until 2006.Buick executives now realize they would be hard-pressed to find a course that could seamlessly marshal all the infinite details and demands of hosting a Tour event in two short years. Secondly, the Flint area's civic leadership has responded to the threat of losing its sports crown jewel with a brilliant counterattack of renewed enthusiasm and hard work. In particular, Jerry Preston, President of the Flint Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, must to be applauded for rallying his community (again) behind the Buick Open. In the words of one prominent Warwick Hills member, Preston has been a "tower of strength" on behalf of the Buick Open remaining in Grand Blanc. Community leaders and Warwick Hills members alike in the past year have rolled up their sleeves and used their local ties and connections to help sell corporate and ticket packages, the life blood of any Tour event. Thirdly, Warwick Hills has just completed a $5 million renovation and expansion of its clubhouse. It will be paid for by both a $5000 assessment on current members and an ongoing dues surcharge. For sure, such a sizable financial undertaking by the membership further strengthens the club's position as a worthy and corporate-friendly venue for the event.
Finally in June, Buick Motor Division itself announced a new four-year agreement to continue its sponsorship of the PGA TOUR. The agreement-which runs from 2003 to 2006-calls for Buick, among other considerations, to sponsor three TOUR events-The Buick Classic (Harrison, NY), the Buick Invitational (La Jolla, CA) and the Buick Open (Grand Blanc, MI.) Such an announcement can only be viewed optimistically by Flint and Warwick Hills onlookers that Buick wouldn't make a course change, if at all, until after 2006.
So, only a year ago it was widely feared that Buick might make the unforgivable sin of ripping its tournament out of Flint and Warwick Hills to gamble on some unproven new venue. It's reassuring to know that "heart and soul" and a lot of hard work and commitment are keeping the Buick Open at Warwick Hills. At least for now.
You know, some matters are even more important than whether or not Tiger Woods is playing in a tournament. MG
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