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Champions tour announces new TV deal

The Champions Tour continued its reinvention last week by signing an agreement with The Golf Channel through 2008 and, for the first time, naming a tour president.

The Golf Channel will replace business channel CNBC as the tour's TV home beginning in 2004. This year, The Golf Channel will televise 10 Champions Tour events in their entirety and the first rounds of all events.

Perhaps the bigger news was the naming of Rick George as the former Senior PGA Tour's president. George will take over after finishing his duties as the president and CEO of Fore!Kids Foundation, the host organization of the PGA Tour's HP Classic of New Orleans.

"I've heard great things about him for many, many years," said Bob Burris, the executive director of The ACE Group Classic, Naples' Champions Tour event that is Feb. 10-16 at The Club at TwinEagles in North Naples.

"He's a real strong marketing guy. That's definitely what we need. I think it's a very good move on the tour's part to hire not only a marketing person, but one who has been a tournament director."

Jeff Monday, the Champions Tour's senior vice president and chief of operations, had been in charge of the tour since 1999. In recent years some players and tournament personnel had put forth the idea for the tour to have a prominent player as its head official.

"Rick George is ideally qualified to help the Champions Tour take full advantage of its outstanding potential," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in a press release.

"His experience and vision will be very important ingredients as we continue our drive to make the Champions Tour the most accessible and fan-friendly experience in all of sport," Finchem added.

"Speaking as a player, it's been exciting to see how Rick's leadership at the HP Classic of New Orleans has resulted in a much stronger tournament," said PGA Tour player Hal Sutton, a player director on the tour's policy board.

The tour started a series of fan-friendly initiatives last year, including allowing galleries inside the ropes for the final few holes, clinics by players during tournament week, and honorary observers — select fans being allowed to walk with groups during tournament play. That theme also carried over to the tour's television coverage.

Late last year, Finchem announced the changing of the tour's name from the Senior PGA Tour to the Champions Tour.

Burris said the tour also had been negotiating with ESPN and ESPN2, as well as The Golf Channel. "I think it was widely known that they were trying to negotiate with two carriers," Burris said.

Still, Burris believes the move can be a good one.

"I believe that the golf fans will have an easier time finding The Golf Channel than they did finding CNBC," he said.

The ACE Group Classic is one of the 10 Champions Tour events this year with all three rounds shown on The Golf Channel. "We lobbied hard to be one of those events," Burris said.


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