Irish perk not up to expectations
Some players at the 84 Lumber Classic thought they were getting a perk unlike any other on the PGA Tour. They wound up with a flight they won't soon forget.
Players eligible for the American Express Championship were offered up to six seats on a nonstop, round-trip charter to Ireland aboard a 747 equipped only with first-class seats. The value was estimated at $40,000, although it was free to those who played the 84 Lumber Classic in Pennsylvania.
"I guess we got what we paid for," Scott Verplank said.
The 747 jumbo jet turned into two 737s that had to stop twice for fuel. Smoke filled the cabin in one of the planes when it arrived in Iceland because of a short in the air conditioning system, causing a four-hour delay. Players arrived at Mount Juliet at 8 o'clock, as promised -- only it was at night, not in the morning.
"I'm not upset. It was a tremendous gesture," Brad Faxon said. "But it's cheaper to pay sometimes."
84 Lumber spokesman Jeff Nobers said the 747 the company chartered had "documentation issues," so organizers had to switch last month to two 737s to accommodate the 133 passengers -- although no one bothered to tell the players until two days before they left.
"We were told there would be one stop, but there were two," said Chris DiMarco, who had to sit in coach seats as one of the last players to board.
After a two-hour drive from Nemacolin Woodlands Resort to Pittsburgh, then a one-hour delay leaving Pittsburgh, the 737s went to Goose Bay, Canada, then on to Iceland.
It was that leg that made everyone nervous on one of the planes.
"The left engine was making a funny noise," Charles Howell III said. "And that got our attention."
Faxon said he was told the squeal came from a broken seal in the landing gear, although that didn't make the flight any less apprehensive.
"My wife was almost in tears," Faxon said. "It was not a natural sound."
Smoke filled the cabin as soon as the plane landed, and players and their guests quickly got off the plane -- only to find the airport empty until one worker showed up to serve them coffee.
They finally arrived in Shannon, just in time for a 2 1/2-hour bus drive through windy, narrow roads of Ireland (and those are the main highways) to get to Mount Juliet.
"My son thought it was pretty cool," David Toms said of his 7-year-old. "He said, 'Hey, Dad, we've already been to four countries -- United States, Canada, Iceland, Ireland.' I didn't think it was all that great."
Nobers said 84 Lumber founder Joe Hardy and his daughter, who runs the company, were mortified. The company already has arranged for a 767-300ER from Northwest Airlines to fly the players home.
"They are certainly upset about the fact it wasn't what we all anticipated it to be," Nobers said. "We've apologized in every way, shape and form. Mr. Hardy doesn't do anything short of first rate."
That was not lost on most of the players.
They stayed in Hardy's resort at Nemacolin, among the finest accommodations of the year, and they had a gift waiting for him each night. Even on the smaller charter planes, Hardy gave every passenger a combination DVD-TV-CD player and a leather travel kit.
The idea behind the free flight was get a strong field at the 84 Lumber Classic, a second-year tournament during the time of year when players cut back. And it worked, with 21 players from the top 30 on the money list, and world No. 1 Vijay Singh winning the event.
"It's hard to complain when they give you five free seats," DiMarco said. "They've been good. And it's a better deal going back."
One of the players nonplussed by it all was Tim Herron, who flew to Ireland with his father.
"I was on the bad plane," he said. "There were some major funny noises, but I was sleeping. I heard some of the guys complaining, and I just rolled over and went back to bed."
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