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Changes announced to PGA Senior Tour

The Senior PGA Tour revealed sweeping changes Wednesday aimed at attracting more fans and making sure they get more out of a tournament than watching old guys play golf.

Proposals include putting microphones on players, having them stop to answer questions that fans submit during the round, allowing the gallery to walk down the fairway over the final four holes, and asking players to conduct clinics at the tournament.

Also, the senior tour will try to get away from taped broadcasts on CNBC that sent ratings tumbling this year.

The idea is to distinguish the senior tour from the PGA Tour by making it more fan-friendly for those on the course, watching on television or plugged into the Internet.

``While the senior tour continues to grow, the competition for the interest of those fans also has grown, and that competition is significant,'' commissioner Tim Finchem said. ``This vision is for the fans to become more excited, more involved and more intrigued.''

Some of the concepts will be tested next season, and Finchem said he would like to see them in place for the 2003 season.

The announcement followed an exhaustive study aimed at reviving the senior tour, which is 20 years old and starting to lose some of its luster.

``We need to pull away and create more excitement,'' Bruce Fleisher said.

That could come in a variety of ways.

Finchem believes the senior tour can do what few other sports can by letting fans become part of the game without threatening the integrity of the competition.

``If you spend any time at a senior tour event, you'll walk away having learned something about your game,'' he said.

For example, each tournament will have an instructional theme -- bunker play, putting, long irons -- that will be featured during the telecast. Tips from the pros will be available on its Web site (pgatour.com), and clinics will be conducted after the round.

``Everyone on the senior tour is a great player, but they're also great teachers,'' Finchem said.

The structure of the senior tour also faces an overhaul:

-- Television will move from taped broadcasts (6 p.m. to 8 p.m.) to live whenever possible, either in the 2-4 p.m. or 5-7 p.m. time slots.

-- The fields will increase from 78 to 84 players through two new categories. Four of the spots will be available for players with at least two PGA Tour victories or one major championship, a category that will be valid for the first two years. The other two spots will be sponsor's exemptions for players who meet the same criteria.

-- The schedule will decrease by at least five tournaments in 2003 to keep the senior tour from going head-to-head with the four majors and The Players Championship.

-- The senior tour will go to new markets where high-profile players have roots. Those include Austin, Texas (Tom Kite, Ben Crenshaw), Ohio (Jack Nicklaus), Kansas City, Mo. (Tom Watson) and Cincinnati, where Arnold Palmer has designed a TPC course.

-- The formats will become more varied. One of the proposals is a tournament that will include NHL players; another would be modeled after the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

``I'm comfortable with our strategy,'' Finchem said. ``It's going to be different. We're going to be a laboratory for change.''

The key to making it work is the players.

Finchem said they will be required to give about two hours of their time during the course of the week, going to pro-am drawings and parties, giving clinics and answering questions from fans at the course or on the Internet.

``The bottom line is we must open our door to the people who pay the bills,'' said Fuzzy Zoeller, who recently turned 50 and will make his debut on the senior tour next year.

Dave Stockton has been on the senior tour for 10 years and noticed some problems -- star players not playing as much and difficulties with taped broadcasts on CNBC.

``It wasn't like it was an emergency situation,'' he said. ``The players felt like we could do a better job than we've done. All of us want to make the senior tour better.''


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