Marla Ridenour Beacon Journal sports writer
A volatile week in PGA Tour economics continued its upswing Sunday when Bridgestone Corporation announced the extension of its sponsorship of a World Golf Championships event at Firestone Country Club for four more years.
Bridgestone had one year remaining on its original contract that ran through 2010. Now Akron will host the no-cut tournament that draws an international field, including the world's top 50 players, through 2014.
This year's purse is $8.5 million, surpassed only by the $9.5 million Players Championship and the $8.6 million British Open. The 2009 tournament was seen in 230 countries, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said.
Firestone Country Club, which opened in 1929, has held a PGA or Champions Tour event for 56 consecutive years, including the 1960, 1966 and 1975 PGA Championships.
It also happens to be a favorite layout of the world's No. 1 player, Tiger Woods, who has won six titles in 10 previous appearances in Akron. Woods went into Sunday's final round three strokes behind leader Padraig Harrington of Ireland.
"The happiest person today might be Tiger, having won 60 to 70 percent of the time you play here," Finchem said in a press conference just before Woods and Harrington teed off.
"That really wasn't the key consideration, although we're always happy when it's the final round and Tiger's in the final pairing, because that's good for ratings," said Mark Emkes, chairman, CEO and president of Bridgestone Americas. "But we understand he can get injured, like he did last year, and he is raising a family. I think he's going to be around for a long time. But we did not let that be the No. 1 priority in our decision. There are other great golfers."
Another factor was that Bridgestone owns the legendary Akron brand Firestone and its technical center here employs over 1,000.
"This was a dream come true," Emkes said. "We started here over 100 years ago. To be able to sponsor an event, the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, in one event we get both brands exposed."
The PGA Tour estimates the tournament generates about $30 million for the local economy and raises more than $900,000 a year for local charities, tournament director Don Padgett III said last week.
Bridgestone also announced it will continue its partnership as the official tire of the PGA and Champions tours through 2014.
Last week, the tour announced that Buick had terminated its sponsorship, ending a partnership of 51 years, because of the restructuring of General Motors. That affected the future of the Buick Open in Grand Blanc, Mich. and the Buick Invitational in LaJolla, Calif.
But on the positive side, The Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. struck quickly to move into the slot of the Buick Open, which was held this year the week before the Bridgestone. In a six-year agreement, The Greenbrier Classic will be part of the FedExCup playoffs.
"We seem to be in a very solid trend as we look out past this downturn of having an increasing number of our sponsors step up and move forward with us over the next half decade. I think today's announcement will help us continue that momentum," Finchem said.
"We've had to be very lean and strategic during this economic downturn and there's been some things we've cut out," Emkes said. "But the Bridgestone Invitational, working with a class organization like the PGA, our association with the NFL, with the NHL, those things have worked for us. So even in a down economy we need to sell Bridgestone golf balls, Bridgestone clubs, Bridgestone tires, Firestone tires. We think this venue is an excellent chance, not only to show our brands in the United States, but this is an international stage."
Bridgestone believes it will also get more exposure in November when the first WGC-HSBC Champions tournament, a $7 million event, will be held in Shanghai, China. Bridgestone has manufacturing facilities and sells products in China.