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Las Vegas PGA tour stop still in doubt

It's up to a bunny and a bearded man to save this act.

The circus, right? Not exactly. Try Las Vegas' cash-strapped PGA Tour event that no one seems to wants to sponsor.

"If we don't pull a rabbit out of a hat, or if Santa isn't good to us, more is going to be lost than the PGA tournament," said Charlie Baron, tournament director of the Las Vegas Invitational.

A weary Baron enters his second consecutive holiday season searching for a title sponsor for Las Vegas' PGA Tour stop, and there is no doubt that the Tour knows it. On the October spot normally reserved for the LVI, the 2004 Tour schedule simply says "TBD," or to be determined, because both sides grudgingly acknowledge the end of the tournament as a possibility.

"We have no sponsor in Vegas," PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem told the Associated Press weeks ago. "It's the only tournament we have an issue with. We have options to play elsewhere, but we would like to play in Vegas."

Baron can rest a bit easier knowing that the Tour really does not want to leave the prime backdrop of Las Vegas and the Tournament Players Club brand of both Summerlin and The Canyons.

"The Tour is still diligently working at keeping and growing the tournament in Las Vegas," Tour spokesperson Ana Leaird said Tuesday.

The LVI is not working under any deadline to land sponsorship, Leaird said, and the Tour is not actively exploring any contingency plans for that week if sponsorship does not come through in Las Vegas.

"I don't know that there's been any thought to that next step," Leaird said.

The pressure exerted on the LVI by the Tour is that of keeping gambling far away from the overt sponsorship of the event. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has been a major backer of the event in past years, but the Tour limits the extent to which the gaming industry can be involved in sponsoring the event.

Hope, however, may not be more than a reach into the stocking away. Baron is in discussions with three or four companies and he feels he can probably "get it done in the next couple of weeks." That could mean an outright title sponsor of likely at least $3 million or a combination of sponsors to take the burden off the Las Vegas Founders, the charitable group that runs the tournament and that fronted the $4 million purse last year.

"Both the Tour and ourselves are still pursuing sponsorship opportunities," Baron said. "We hope something's going to break soon."

Of course, such hope is not foreign to Baron and the Founders. This is certainly not the first time they have approached the altar, only to eventually find themselves holding the bouquet in tears after being jilted by another potential sponsor. The last title sponsor, Invensys, pulled out after the 2002 event after a three-year commitment.

Baron said the Founders would not underwrite the purse again in 2004, intensifying the need to find sponsorship. The event is played under a 90-hole pro-am format, with the first three days pairing pros with three amateurs on TPC at Summerlin, TPC at The Canyons, or Southern Highlands. Amateurs paid $7,500 per person this year to play.

It is also very difficult to pitch this tournament to sponsors and TV advertisers because of its bad timing. The tournament's weekend days traditionally run against NFL football and playoff baseball, and the event already has the disadvantage of being played well after golf's four majors and without Tiger Woods, who reportedly dislikes the long pro-am format.

"We couldn't sell it," Baron said of last year's event. "We didn't do as well as we had hoped to."

The tournament also usually does not draw larger crowds until Sunday's final round, going so far as to give away packages of four single-day tickets for the first few days of the tournament for free this year.

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