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Reno-Tahoe Open struggling to survive

The PGA Tour's fourth annual Reno-Tahoe Open in August is likely to be its last because of the failure to secure a title sponsor.

``Everybody is so skittish,'' tournament director Jim Kline said Monday at Montreux Golf & Country Club in Reno. ``The days of a CEO saying, `I like golf, so I'll spend $30 million' -- those days are gone.''

The PGA Tour offered a pair of weekends in September as possible dates in 2003 if a sponsor comes forward with the $3 million to $6 million necessary, Kline said. The most attractive option calls for a unique Friday through Monday format that ABC could televise Sunday and Monday evenings of Labor Day weekend before Monday Night Football's season begins.

But Kline and Fred Boyd, chairman of the tournament board of directors, admitted it's unlikely they'll find such a sponsor before a PGA deadline in two months.

``We have to be very candid and say at this point, knowing what we know, it's unlikely,'' Boyd said. ``It doesn't look promising unless we can get a title sponsor to step up in the next few weeks.''

Kline said discussions with prospective corporate sponsors suggest they've taken a more conservative outlook -- regardless of whether they've been affected directly since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

``It's not like they don't have the money or had a necessarily bad year,'' he said. ``They just are not spending money. People are just in a weird mood. It's kind of got people down.''

The Reno-Tahoe Open, scheduled for Aug. 22-25, made its debut in 1999 on the same weekend as the NEC Invitational in Ohio with the hope it would earn a weekend date of its own. Because the world's best 40 or more golfers compete in the NEC, the Reno-Tahoe Open has been without most of the PGA's marquee players. Notah Begay III won the first tourney, Scott Verplank won in 2000 and John Cook last year.

Nevertheless, community leaders have embraced the event as a chance to showcase outdoor recreation in the Reno-Tahoe area as they try to diversify an economy traditionally dependent on casino gambling revenues.

And the pros who have played it rave about the 7,552-yard Jack Nicklaus layout that wanders through towering pines and Sierra streams in the shadow of the 10,000-foot Mt. Rose.

``There is no tournament in this country that shows better on television,'' Boyd said.

The Golf Channel telecast part of last year's tournament, but tourney leaders say corporations are unwilling to put up the money to sponsor the event unless they get national network exposure. Likewise, the major networks won't broadcast the event without a title sponsor opposite the NEC.

``It's a chicken and the egg thing,'' Kline said.

``I'm personally very concerned about the future of the tournament. We have no nibbles. We're struggling. ... We don't have a date on the tour next year and we're not going to get one if we don't have a title sponsor.''

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