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Golf returns focus to New Orleans

This week's New Orleans Classic can help attract corporate America to local investment possibilities following the Hurricane Katrina disaster, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said on Monday.

The New Orleans Classic, the 18th tournament on the 2006 PGA Tour, is the first major international sports event to take place in the Louisiana city since the devastation of last August.

Hurricane Katrina, which caused at least $80 billion of damage after hitting Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, flooded 80 percent of New Orleans.

"The PGA Tour is trying to do its part to communicate to corporate America what is happening in New Orleans and what can still happen," Finchem told a news conference after hosting an economic forum attended by around 100 chief executive officers (CEOs).

"Our telecast this week will be speaking to the decision-makers throughout America.

"Our telecasts skew higher than any other sport in terms of reaching CEOs, vice presidents, chief marketing officers, people that would make the decisions to bring groups here, the individuals who make the decision about how to expand their businesses.

"I don't think most people recognise it, but if you add up the cumulative audience of a PGA Tour event it is second only to the NFL (National Football League) in terms of the total number of people that come in for a telecast."

Finchem added that the U.S. Golf Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund, a collaborative effort led by the PGA Tour and other major golf organisations, had raised more than $5 million.

The Tour commissioner spoke after forum attendees were updated on the recovery process in New Orleans and plans for the city's continued revival.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco also took part in the two-hour session.

"I think it's extremely important to have the PGA back in full swing here in the New Orleans area, and bringing a sense of national and international business community is vital," Blanco said.

"We believe that it gives us an opportunity to showcase our city, the efforts that have gone forth have brought the business sector of the city back up, but it also gives us an opportunity to let people know that we're not where we need to be, particularly in the residential areas."

The New Orleans Classic, won last year by American Tim Petrovic at the TPC of Louisiana, takes place at English Turn Golf & Country Club from Thursday to Sunday.

Three of the world's top 10 players will be competing, including U.S. Masters champion Phil Mickelson who will be bidding for a third win in a row.

Hurricane Katrina, which slammed into the American coastline with 140 mile-per-hour winds (224 kph) and a 30-foot (9-metre) storm surge, is the costliest hurricane on record and probably the costliest natural disaster ever to strike the United States.



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