Wednesday, August 5, 2009

No more Buick Open

Well, it's official - Buick pulled it sponsorship from both the Buick Open a Warwick Hills in Grand Blanc, Mich., and the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines in San Diego, citing financial woes.

The Buick Open has been a staple on the PGA Tour for the past 51 years, so it's pretty sad. I know times are tough for General Motors, and I guess it was inevitable that this would happen.

The PGA said it was "very interested" in keeping a tournament in Michigan, so all is not lost for the area right now. But rumors are that the Greenbrier in West Virginia will be the site of a new PGA Tour event next year to replace the Buick Open slot.

The Flint/Grand Blanc/Detroit area is suffering through some tough times, and the Buick Open seemed like an oasis in their expanse of economic woes. And it's good that people remember and recognize this. The players certainly do.

Here's what a few of them said while I was in Michigan covering the first two days of the tournament when the rumors were flying and GM had yet to officially confirm that this would be the last Buick Open.

Tiger likened it a little to the Masters, in that the same volunteers show up year after year.

"It would be unfortunate," said Tiger Woods, who won his third Buick Open on Sunday. "Obviously this area's been struggling a bit, and as I said, I think the atmosphere, all the players have really enjoyed playing in front of the fans here. It is very intimate. You see the same people at same holes each and every year, and it is a venue that we don't get to play in front of very often. It's much more personal here.

"I think it's just how the people are. It's a smaller town. I think, as I said, you see the same people on the same greens, on the same tees each and every year. You kind of get to know them, say hi to them, how's everything going. You don't get to say that in any other tournament, except for maybe the Masters because some people have been going to the Masters for 50-plus years in the same seat. But that's basically the only tournament I've ever experienced that in."

Steve Lowery, who led after the first round, said he's been playing the tournament for the past 20 years, and he's disappointed.

"I think a lot of the players look forward to coming here," Lowery said. "The people are really nice. The golf course is enjoyable. I think guys look forward to it. I've been doing this out here for 20 years, and it's a place that I look forward to coming.

"You know, and it's just enjoyable. It'll definitely be missed. It's a great community, great place to play golf."

Jim Furyk talked about even seeing some of the same fans every time he came back.

"A lot of the same marshalls on a lot of the same holes," Furyk said. "Yeah. I've seen the fans. Definitely one, maybe two or three different places where the same fans, a lot of the same marshalls on the same holes, same rowdy people on 17."

Woody Austin said the longevity of the Buick Open is a testament to its quality.

"It's such a great event," Austin said. "An event can't be at a place for 51 years if it's not a good event, so there's obviously a lot of support in the community. There's obviously good people. Obviously Buick's been a great sponsor. So it's sad to see that it could possibly go away because it wouldn't have been here this long and be this popular if it wasn't."

And he also talked about the fans on No. 17 - the party hole. They added bleachers this year, and a beer tent was close by.

"I guess it was my first - since it was my rookie year, it was kind of my first experience with a rowdy crowd on 17," Austin said. "And I'd been playing with Freddie Couples the first couple days and having to hear 'Freddie, Freddie' always.

"So on Sunday when they were yelling 'Woody, Woody,' that was my first really good feeling of having a big crowd yelling my name. So I thought that was really cool. So I'll never forget that."

And I don't think anyone who had any connection with the Buick Open - whether they be fans, players, marshalls, standard-bearers or any other volunteer, official or reporter - will forget the Buick Open.

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