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Michelob-Kingsmill tournament under threat

Anheuser-Bush said Wednesday it will reconsider its sponsorship of golf's Michelob Championship when its contract expires after this year.

A company decision to drop sponsorship likely would end the event's 21-year run in Williamsburg.

The tournament, which takes place Oct. 3-6, has faced escalating costs and declining television exposure in recent years.

Anheuser-Busch began sponsoring the event in 1977 and moved it from Napa, Calif., to the company's Kingsmill resort community in 1981. Busch Properties Inc. owns Kingsmill and, absent a Busch-affiliated sponsor, Kingsmill has little chance of staying on the PGA Tour.

``The Michelob Championship at Kingsmill's current contract with the PGA Tour expires after the 2002 tournament. As we do at the end of each contract, we are assessing our position and evaluating options for continuing our affiliation with professional golf,'' Bill Rammes, president of Busch Properties and chairman of the tournament, said in a statement.

Michelob, like all title sponsors, provides its tournament's prize money, which at Kingsmill has grown since 1981 from $300,000 to $3.5 million.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem told sponsors last summer that he expected prize money to double between 2003 and 2006. He was in Hawaii for a tournament and could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday. The business office at PGA headquarters in Florida said it knew nothing about Anheuser-Busch's plans.

The prospect of additional purse increases already has prompted title sponsors Canon and Advil to withdraw from the PGA Tour effective next year.

``With the recession, the tour has to be careful not to push sponsors too far,'' said two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange, a Kingsmill resident.

For Michelob, the recession and escalating costs coincide with declining television exposure for its tournament. The Michelob Championship appeared live only on ESPN last year and will be limited to the cable network again this year. Previously, a leading network such as NBC, CBS or ABC broadcast the tournament's final two rounds, assuring larger audiences.

The tournament also seldom attracts many top-ranked players or overflow galleries. David Duval, the world's third-ranked player, got his first professional victory at Kingsmill in 1997. Other champions include Lanny Wadkins, Fuzzy Zoeller, Calvin Peete and David Toms.

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