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Ford Senior Players says goodbye to TPC of Michigan

Peter Jacobsen was walking up a path toward the practice green when a familiar person asked for another autograph.

"Didn't I already sign some things for you?" Jacobsen asked as he obliged with another stroke of his pen on a program Wednesday.

"Yes, but I can't travel to Baltimore next year," replied Prakash Mhambrey, a 64-year-old volunteer, who lives in Dearborn.

The Senior Players Championship will be held in suburban Detroit -- where Jack Nicklaus won the first tournament here in 1990 -- before one of the Champions Tour's majors moves to Baltimore next year.

The TPC of Michigan is in the shadow of Ford Motor Co.'s world headquarters and the auto industry's woes in the Motor City likely led to Ford's decision to end its sponsorship after this week. Constellation Energy will sponsor the tournament next year at the Baltimore Country Club.

"It's sad," said Jacobsen, the defending champion. "This course was built for spectators to enjoy our sport, and it's one of the few courses that you can say that about. Detroit is such a great sports city, so it's a shame that this will be our last time here."

Jacobsen outlasted Hale Irwin last year at the Senior Players, winning by one stroke with a 15-under 273 performance. Jacobsen and Irwin are in the 78-man field along with money leader Jay Haas, Tom Watson and Allen Doyle, who won his second straight U.S. Senior Open last week. They will play the first of four rounds Thursday.

Like Jacobsen, Doyle is sorry to see the Champions Tour leave the Nicklaus-designed TPC of Michigan.

"When you get courses like this, you don't want to leave," Doyle said. "I think it would help the history of the event to stay here."

Shortly after Jacobsen won the Senior Players last year, Champion Tour president Rick George said Ford confirmed what officials with the 50-and-over tour were expecting to hear from the automaker.

"Ford told us they were out after 2006," George said. "We started looking for a new sponsor in the fall, Constellation Energy stepped up and wanted to move the event to Baltimore.

"We've had a great run here with Ford, but we hope to find another sponsor willing to bring one of our other events back to this course. It's not necessarily too late to make that happen for next year."

Ford spokeswoman Whitney Drake said the decision to stop sponsoring the Senior Players reflects part of the company's new marketing strategy.

"There is a place for golf in our portfolio, but we're moving toward more product-specific opportunities with our marketing," she said. "At NASCAR events, we've had success with a Ford Experience Tour where customers can get in our vehicles."

For at least the next five years, the Senior Players will be held at Baltimore Country Club's East Course, also known as Five Farms, a course that has hosted the PGA Championship, U.S. Amateur, Walker Cup and Women's U.S. Open.

The Senior Players will be in October, instead of in the week after the U.S. Senior Open and two weeks before the Senior British Open as it has been at the TPC of Michigan.

Fred Funk, Maryland's most famous professional golfer, is looking forward to heading home for the event in 2007.

"Growing up in the Maryland area there were two clubs really known in the state, Congressional (in Bethesda) and Baltimore Country Club," Funk said.

July 13, 2006


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