PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem can’t imagine moving the Bridgestone Invitational to another venue.
Especially since he said the first player he would have to ask would be Tiger Woods, poised to win his eighth championship at Firestone Country Club Sunday.
Bridgestone announced a four-year extension of its title sponsorship of the World Golf Championships event that will keep the $8.75 million tournament in Akron through 2018.
The previous agreement with Bridgestone ran through next year.
The PGA Tour will celebrate its 60th year of golf at Firestone in 2014, a relationship Finchem said he wanted to build on. Tommy Bolt won the inaugural Rubber City Open in 1954.
But Finchem left himself a little wiggle room if Bridgestone executives want to consider a move to Japan after 2018. A question along those lines during Sunday’s press conference came from a member of the Japanese media. Masaaki Tsuya, Bridgestone Global CEO and chairman of the board, was among the participants.
“We are excited to continue our relationship with the World Golf Championship here at the Firestone Country Club, and we look forward to the bright future ahead,” Tsuya said.
“This sponsorship agreement reconfirms our commitment to golf fans worldwide, to the PGA TOUR, and to the area of Akron,” said Gary Garfield, CEO and president of Bridgestone Americas.
Finchem spoke before Woods teed off with a 15-under par total and a 7-stroke lead going into the final round.
“The golf course is terrific. The players all love it,” Finchem said. “It's interesting that you see players this week and every year that struggle. It's a very difficult challenge, which speaks a lot to Tiger's position right now. But they respect the golf course. It's difficult but fair, and you have to be on your game, and that's what the best players in the world like to see.
“So when you have a golf course that is so popular globally with all the best players, you have to have a pretty good reason to move away from that because it makes everything else work so well. As I said earlier, we have 60 years of history here in Akron, so we want to continue to build on that and I think that those sentiments are shared by Bridgestone. Our intention is to be here every year.”
The tournament was held outside Ohio only once, in 2002, when it went to Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Wash. That year Firestone hosted the Senior PGA Championship, won by Fuzzy Zoeller.
Gary Garfield, CEO of Bridgestone Americas, said the tournament pumps about $20 million a year into the local economy and raises about $1 million annually for Northern Ohio Golf Charities. He feels Akron and the Bridgestone Invitational are a perfect match.
“Bridgestone and Firestone merged about 25 years ago, so we have two world-class brands,” Garfield said. “So having this tournament, the Bridgestone Invitational, at the Firestone Country Club is kind of like bread and butter. It's just a match made in heaven for us. So that's one of the reasons we're so excited about it. And of course Firestone Country Club was founded by Harvey Firestone. It just couldn't be more perfect for us.”
Finchem said he expected the Bridgestone Invitational to remain the week before the PGA Championship except perhaps in 2016, when golf makes its debut in the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Bridgestone has sponsored the tournament since 2006.
Other PGA Tour events held at Firestone include three PGA Championships (1960, 1966 and 1975), the American Golf Classic and the World Series of Golf, first a 36-hole exhibition, then a 72-hole tournament starting in 1976. NEC sponsored the tournament from 1984-2005. It became a WGC event in 1999, when Woods won the first of his titles.