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Champions Tour schedule released

The Champions Tour finally released its 2003 schedule on Monday — four or five months later than usual as it scrambled to fill title sponsorship vacancies.

"Historically, the schedule is out in June or July, but this is an unusual year," said Bob Burris, the tournament director of The ACE Group Classic, Naples' event, and a member of the tour's sponsorship board.

The $1.6 million ACE Group Classic is where it usually is: right after the Royal Caribbean Classic on Key Biscayne and before the Verizon Classic in Tampa. Tournament dates are Feb. 10-16 at The Club at TwinEagles.

The Champions Tour, formerly the Senior PGA Tour, has 31 official money events and one of its majors, The Tradition, is moving from Arizona to Portland, Ore., with part-time Bonita Springs resident Peter Jacobsen's production company managing it and JELD-WEN sponsoring. The tournament also changes from April to August.

"The 2003 Champions Tour schedule reflects a very strong lineup of tournaments," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in a press release. "It accomplishes our previous announced goal of having fewer, yet stronger tournaments across the board, while avoiding weeks when high-impact PGA Tour events are played."

New tournaments are in Austin, Texas (Kinko's Classic), Hickory, N.C. (Greater Hickory Classic at Rock Barn) and Columbus, Ga. (Columbus Southern Open). Bayer Advantage (Kansas City) and Constellation Energy Group (Baltimore) are other new title sponsors besides JELD-WEN and Kinko's.

"The new scenario for the JELD-WEN Tradition and the addition of the Senior British Open, as well as the new title sponsors, venues and cities that have been added, are welcome and exciting developments for the Champions Tour," Finchem said.

"The schedule as we saw it released today is a lot stronger than it looked three or four months ago, that's for sure," Burris said.

Burris said the fact that tournaments in Nashville, Hickory, N.C., and Long Island, N.Y., were willing to try and survive without a title sponsor bodes well for the tour's future.

"What we're seeing is that there's an awful lot of confidence in the product," Burris said.

Another big change is the move of the tour's oldest co- sponsored event, the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, from St. Augustine to The Westin Savannah (Ga.) Harbor Golf Resort & Spa.

The tour's majors will be played in June, July and August.

The Senior PGA Championship is at Aronomink Golf Club near Philadelphia, June 5-8, with the U.S. Senior Open three weeks later at Inverness, and the Ford Players Championship, July 10-13, at the TPC of Michigan in Dearborn. The JELD-WEN Tradition is Aug. 28-31.

As for The ACE Group Classic, the title sponsor and TwinEagles are set through 2004. Burris said the event will add a Monday pro-am this year based on the demand for the pro-am on Wednesday and Thursday of tournament week.

Entry for the Monday pro-am will be $1,500, compared to $2,500 for the Wednesday- Thursday pro-am.

Chuck "The Hit Man" Hiter will return to perform once again on Tuesday of tournament week with noted instructor Dr. Jim Suttie, whose academy has moved to TwinEagles, hosting a clinic. Tournament play is Friday through Sunday, with The Golf Channel televising all three rounds. The Golf Channel and CNBC are sharing TV rights this year.

Tickets are on sale. Weekly grounds badges are $90 and include a booklet with 20 rounds of free golf from May to September 2003. Daily grounds passes are $15 from Tuesday through Friday and Champions grounds passes are $20 from Friday through Sunday. Call 1-877-FORE-TIX (367-3849). For other tournament information or to volunteer, call 593-3900.

Champions Tour, 2003 Schedule

PONTE VEDRA BEACH — The 2003 schedule for the Champions Tour with tournament name, golf course and location:

Jan. 31-Feb. 2 — MasterCard Championship, Hualalia GC, Ka'upulehu- Kona, Hawaii.

Feb. 7-9 — Royal Caribbean Golf Classic, Crandon Park GC, Key Biscayne, Fla.

Feb. 14-16 — The ACE Group Classic, TwinEagles GC, Naples, Fla.

Feb. 21-23 — Verizon Classic, TPC of Tampa Bay, Lutz, Fla.

March 7-9 — The BosqueReal Championship, BosqueReal CC, Lomas Altas, Mexico.

March 14-16 — SBC Classic, Valencia CC, Valencia, Calif.

March 21-23 — Toshiba Senior Classic, Newport Beach CC, Newport Beach, Calif.

April 18-20 — Emerald Coast Classic, The Moors GC, Milton, Fla.

April 25-27 — Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf, Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa, Savannah, Ga.

May 2-4 — Bruno's Memorial Classic, Greyston G&CC, Birmingham, Ala.

May 9-11 — Kinko's Classic of Austin, The Hills CC, Austin, Texas.

May 16-18 — Bayer Advantage Invitational, The National GC of Kansas City, Kansas City, Mo.

May 23-25 — Columbus Southern Open, Green Island CC, Columbus, Ga.

May 30-June 1 — Music City Championship at Gaylord Opryland, Springhouse GC, Nashville, Tenn.

June 5-8 — Senior PGA Championship, Aronimink GC, Newtown Square, Pa.

June 20-22 — Farmers Charity Classic, Egypt Valley CC, Ada, Mich.

June 26-29 — U.S. Senior Open, Inverness Club, Toledo, Ohio.

July 4-6 — Greater Hickory Classic at Rock Barn, Rock Barn G&CC, Conover, N.C.

July 10-13 — Ford Champions Players Championship, TPC of Michigan, Dearborn, Mich.

July 24-27 — Senior British Open, Turnberry (Ailsa Course), Scotland.

Aug. 1-3 — FleetBoston Classic, Nashawtuc CC, Concord, Mass.

Aug. 8-10 — 3M Championship, TPC of the Twin Cities, Blaine, Minn.

Aug. 22-24 — Allianz Championship, Glen Oaks CC, West Des Moines, Iowa.

Aug. 28-31 — Jeld-Wen Tradition, The Reserve Vineyards & GC, Aloha, Ore.

Sept. 5-7 — Kroger Classic, TPC at River Bend, Mainesville, Ohio.

Sept. 12-14 — Constellation Energy Classic, TBD, Baltimore.

Sept. 19-21 — SAS Championships, Prestonwood CC, Cary, N.C.

Sept. 26-28 — Long Island Classic, TBD, Long Island, N.Y.

Oct. 10-12 — Turtle Bay Championship, Turtle Bay Resort (Palmer Course), Kahuku, Hawaii.

Oct. 17-19 — SBC Championship, Oak Hills CC, San Antonio.

Oct. 23-26 — Champions Tour Championship, TBC.

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