Tuesday, September 9, 2003

Kroger Classic called a success

Director: Tour event draws 80,000

By John Erardi
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON TOWNSHIP - The 14th Kroger Classic overcame heavy rains early last week to present a good course to the Champions Tour players, and benefited so much from improved spectator parking Wednesday through Friday that tournament officials will try to get it extended through the weekend next year.

"We had about 80,000 people turn out for the week, which is very good considering we had a (partial) rainout Monday and a complete rainout Tuesday," said tournament director Margie French. "If not for that, we'd have hit 100,000 (spectators) again this year, which is the number we shoot for."

Winner Gil Morgan (65-68-67, 200; 16-under par) earned $225,000 for the scintillating finish Sunday at the TPC at River's Bend. Last year's Kroger - the first at River's Bend - drew about 103,000 spectators, French said.

"Paramount's Kings Island came through for us with parking (this year), because it was so wet here (on the TPC grounds) that we needed an alternative parking site," French said. "As it turned out, the spectators preferred the parking there (Paramount's Kings Island) and the (increased number of) air-conditioned shuttle buses to the course worked out great.

"For next year, we'll see about getting the parking at Kings Island extended through the weekend. It couldn't be done this year because they (Paramount's Kings Island) were hosting a private event."

She said next year's tournament will be held Sept. 6-12. That is good, French said, because it still includes Labor Day, which is a "great day" for the junior pro-am, with a lot of fans coming out. The later date next year also means fewer conflicts for dad-golfers taking their sons or daughters to college. Because Labor Day fell early this year, it cost the tournament some players, French said.

Also costing the event some players: Kroger was the seventh straight event on the tour, and players were traveling cross-country (from a big tournament - a fifth major - in Portland, Ore.). That won't happen next year, French said. The event that precedes the Kroger next year will be in South Carolina, and the Kroger won't be wedged up against a major as it was this year. There will be a week off on the Champions Tour next year, either before or after the Kroger, which also helps, French said.

"We were pleasantly surprised with the crowd Sunday, because we were up against the Bengals on TV, and yet it was our best crowd of the week," French said. "People stayed around until the very end, even for the presentation (of the winner's trophy to Morgan)."

The tournament had a great finish, with five players either tied for the lead or a stroke back coming down the stretch.

The players were pleased with the condition of the course, given all the rain, and said they liked the changes made since last year (flattening out some uneven spots on the greens and fairways).

Doug Tewell, who finished two strokes behind his buddy Morgan and won $132,000, would like to see some more changes for next year.

"I'd like to see them raise the second tee box on No. 15," he said. "I'm 5-foot-10 and I can't see the fairway when I'm standing there hitting my tee shot. And I'm disappointed with (Sunday's) pin placement on No. 16, because they had it over there on the new part of the green, and it was really bumpy."

"Gil was fortunate to make his putt there for par, and I missed my putt for birdie," Tewell said. "That pin placement is where we walked off the green all week."

He called for some more design work on the greens.

"Apart from the rain, they need to soften up the greens and get pace on them," Tewell said. "If we get these greens faster, and a little firmer, you're not going to see numbers quite this low."

Forty-eight of the 81 players were under par; 10 were in double-digit red numbers. "The general condition of the golf course was an 'A,' " Tewell said. "The bunkers were very good, very consistent."

Jim Thorpe (13 under, $98,625) wants the TPC to grow higher rough in some places, but added: "As the word spreads about how nicely the course is maturing, I think you'll see even more (big names, such as Tom Watson and Tom Kite) play here."

2004 dates set

The Champions Tour's 15th Kroger Classic will take place Sept. 6-12 next year at the TPC at River's Bend.

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Kroger Classic called a success

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