Hollis Cavner rented a plane to fly over Arnold Palmer’s Bay Hill golf course in Florida. The plane was tugging a banner that encouraged “The King” to attend the 3M Championship in Blaine.
Palmer had remained very loyal to Minnesota’s annual Champions Tour event, although he’s soon to turn 86 and had to pass this time because of “fatigue” after a trip to Scotland.
This was understandable and worked out fine for the 3M, after the threesome of Lee Trevino, Gary Player and Jack Nicklaus on Saturday put on the most entertaining show in the 12-year history of the “Greats of Golf” exhibition that’s part of the tournament.
Originally, the Greats were asked to play Saturday and Sunday, but tournament boss Cavner changed the format three years ago. He included a threesome of LPGA legends (Annika Sorenstam, Nancy Lopez and Pat Bradley) and went to a Super Saturday-style promotion.
Nicklaus was convinced to join the frivolity for the first time last year. The four groups of greats started teeing off after the regular field, and the Saturday crowds have been genuinely huge for the past two years.
It’s not cheap getting more than a dozen legends to fly to the Twin Cities in August and dive into this promotion, but such innovation is required for a senior golf event to retain a presence in a crowded sports market.
“3M wants this to remain something special, and it has allowed us to make the ‘Greats’ happen,” Cavner said.
The event started in 1993 at Bunker Hills as the Burnet Senior Classic. The TPC Twin Cities (designed by Palmer) was built with this event in mind, and it moved here in 2001 with 3M as the new sponsor.
There are 26 events on the Champions Tour, including the Senior Open, British Senior and Senior PGA. Among the other 23, the Minnesota event stands fourth in longevity, behind the tournaments in San Antonio (1985), Naples, Fla., (1988) and Birmingham, Ala. (1992).
Cavner’s company, Pro Links Sports Management, had five Champions events this season: 3M, Allianz (Boca Raton, Fla.), Insperity (Houston), Encompass (Chicago) and San Antonio. It also manages the First Tee senior event at Pebble Beach and runs a PGA Tour event, the Valspar, in the Tampa Bay area.
Chicago might not be back. Pro Links is looking for a sponsor to keep San Antonio on the schedule.
Downsizing? Cavner smiled and said: “No, sir. We got a lot of things going behind the scenes, including internationally.”
No matter those possibilities, Pro Links’ start was with a senior event in Minneapolis’ north suburbs, and there’s no end in sight — even with what Cavner described as a “900-pound gorilla” ready to descend on the local sports marketing scene.
The Ryder Cup will be held here for the first time next fall (Sept. 30-Oct. 2) at Hazeltine. The Big H has been host to two PGA Championships — 2002 and 2009 — during the run of the Twin Cities senior event.
“The Ryder Cup is much larger, when it comes to taking money out of the sports marketing budgets of companies,” Cavner said. “When it was in Chicago [Medinah in 2012], the Ryder Cup took sponsorship and marketing money from every sports franchise in town.
“We’re not fighting it. We’re embracing it. We have a hospitality tent at the Ryder Cup, and we’re going to have our sponsors there. I look at it as a two-month celebration of golf, starting with us in early August and building to the Ryder Cup.”
The 3M has maintained its standing as a top Champions event while occupying a less-than-choice spot on the schedule. It has followed the British Senior Open regularly, and at times has followed three consecutive senior majors.
The golf calendar is messed up next summer because of the reintroduction of the sport in the Olympics in Brazil.
The men’s competition is scheduled for Aug. 11-14. The PGA Championship at Baltusrol is moving to the last week of July. The Champions Tour does not play events opposite majors on the PGA Tour.
“The first week of August will be excellent for us,” Cavner said. “There won’t be a British Senior the week before, so that will make it easier for all the top players to be here.”
The main anticipation for the 2016 Champions Tour is John Daly turning 50 in late April. Cavner was asked if there was any truth to the rumor he’s already sending gift cartons of cigarettes to Daly to grease the skids for an appearance in Blaine next August.
Cavner laughed and said: “Whatever it takes. We definitely want Big John here.”