Will BMW Tourney Return to Colo. After 2014?
Local tournament officials hope that's an option for Tour playoff event
by Gary Baines
When Cherry Hills Country Club hosts the BMW Championship in 2014, it will mark the first time since 1956 that the event will be held in the western U.S.
But if 2014 tournament officials have any say in the matter, it may not be the last visit the championship pays to Colorado.
Earlier this month, it was announced that in 2013 the BMW Championship -- a tournament whose sole beneficiary is the Evans Caddie Scholarship -- will be played at Conway Farms Golf Club in the Chicago suburb of Lake Forest, Ill. No major surprise there, as the BMW -- and its predecessor, the Western Open -- has been held in Illinois all but one year since 1962, though this September it will be contested at Crooked Stick in Carmel, Ind., so as not to crowd the Ryder Cup at Medinah near Chicago late that same month.
While the contract with Cherry Hills is a one-year deal, 2014 BMW Championship general chairman -- and Cherry Hills member -- George Solich (pictured) would like Colorado to be in the mix for future years as well.
"We'd love to have it back in Colorado, but nothing formal has ever been discussed," Solich said regarding the BMW, the third event of the four-tournament PGA Tour playoffs. "If it goes well, Colorado is a tremendous market. It's a great fit. It's an exceptional time of year here (in early September), and you have 70 great players. What could be better?"
But if the BMW Championship, which dates back to 1899 as the Western Open, does return to Colorado, it would probably be at least several years down the road. Several Chicago media outlets report that the 2015 BMW may return to Conway Farms as both the club and the PGA Tour hold a contactual option.
The Illinois-based Western Golf Association, which administers the BMW Championship and the Evans Scholars Foundation, reportedly has an agreement that calls for the BMW to be played in the Chicago area at least every other year. Some Chicago media have speculated that the upcoming lineup for the BMW could be Conway Farms in 2015, Harding Park in San Francisco in 2016 and a Chicago site again in 2017.
But nothing beyond 2014 is set as WGA vice president of tournaments Vince Pellegrino noted that BMW's contract only runs through 2014.
As for the 2014 BMW Championship, which is set for Sept. 4-7, Solich said it's been decided that ticket sales will be limited to 27,000 per day to make the event more enjoyable for spectators.
"We want to provide the fans of Denver an exceptional golf experience," Solich said. "For some perspective, the (2005) U.S. Women's Open at Cherry Hills on the weekend was drawing over 30,000."
The 2014 BMW will mark the sixth time an event on the PGA Tour schedule has been played at Cherry Hills, following three U.S. Opens (1938, '60 and '78) and two PGA Championships (1941 and '85). But given the club's strong commitment to caddies and to the Evans Scholarship, the 2014 event holds a special place for many at the 90-year-old course.
And Solich is a natural fit for general chairman given that he graduated from the Evans Scholars program at the University of Colorado, and he's now a WGA director. With the Evans Scholars being one of the largest privately funded scholarships in the country -- typically providing more than 800 full tuition and housing scholarships in any given year -- proceeds from the BMW Championship make up 15 to 20 percent of the E.S. funding.
"It's a great honor" to be general chairman, said Solich, a prominent figure in the oil and gas business. "To have one of the first Western Open/BMW Championships west of the Mississippi in the long history of the event is pretty neat."
Even though the tournament is still 2 1/2 years away -- and Cherry Hills is hosting another major event this summer, the U.S. Amateur -- Solich and other 2014 BMW Championship organizers are busy laying the foundation for the Tour event stop. They're building the organizations and setting the parameters on many fronts -- spectators, hospitality, parking, security, government relations, player relations, etc.
One of the first items in the hopper is hospitality sales, which Solich said will begin this summer. Ticket sales, the other primary source of revenue for the tournament -- and therefore, the Evans Scholars Foundation -- will come later. Solich said the championship will be seeking 1,500 volunteers, but that solicitation probably won't begin until early next year.
"Economically, this is going to be a very solid draw," Solich said. "And obviously the better we do, the better the Evans Scholars Foundation does, so clearly we're motivated."
But Cherry Hills is making sure it has its ducks in a row. The primary priority at this point is the U.S. Amateur, which will be played Aug. 13-19 at the club, with CommonGround Golf Course in Aurora serving as the second course for the stroke-play portion of the event Aug. 13-14.
"We have a great venue for a great championship," Solich said. "And I'm equally proud to share the event with CommonGround."