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Archive for Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Woodling: Futures barely popular

May 10, 2005

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Minutes after the Lawrence Futures Classic ended, one of the participants rushed to hug Jerry Samp.

"She said, 'This is a great place, and I hope it comes back again,'" Samp said. "And I said, 'We'll see.'"

Samp, a local investment broker, and Miles Schnaer, who owns the Crown automobile dealership, were the two people primarily responsible for bringing Lawrence its first women's professional golf tournament.

Both would love to make Lawrence an annual stop on the LPGA Futures Tour, yet they have to face reality, too.

"There are lots of issues to overcome," Schnaer said, "and the main issue is dollars."

The inaugural Lawrence Futures Classic hardly was a ringing financial success. Samp and Schnaer, for example, had hoped to entice twice as many pro-am participants as signed up. And the two had figured on a larger paying gallery, particularly on the last day.

"I had hoped there would be a thousand people there on that final hole instead of a couple of hundred," Samp said.

Perhaps it was just the wrong weekend. Initially, Samp and Schnaer thought Mother's Day would be ideal as a tie-in for a celebration of women in sports, but it's possible traditional Mother's Day gatherings couldn't be amended to include a trip to the golf course.

No events are scheduled the next two weekends on the LPGA Futures Tour, meaning it might be possible to change the Lawrence slot on the schedule. However, then the tourney organizers would run into finals and graduations and who knows what else?

To tell the truth, Samp and Schnaer probably can count on conflicting sports events in Lawrence regardless of the time frame. In essence, it's probably safe to say last weekend's AAU basketball tournament at Kansas University and the Texas-KU baseball series at Hoglund Ballpark siphoned potential Futures Classic customers.

On a more positive note, Samp and Schnaer really didn't have enough time to promote or publicize the meet. They had taken it on in January after Wichita pulled a late plug on Futures Tour officials, and they were basically in a scramble mode.

"We were five or six months behind just getting started," Schnaer said. "But right now, I'd have to say we're pretty optimistic we'll bring it back next year."

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If they do, Samp and Schnaer likely will shed their fish-out-of-water roles and hire a professional tourney manager -- an experienced hand who would have a full year to secure meet sponsorships.

"In these events, you need a lot of smaller sponsors," Schnaer said. "I don't think you can get $50,000 to $75,000 unless it's a charity a company feels good about."

Schnaer's connection to the Futures Tour goes back a couple of decades when he lived in Decatur, Ill., and was involved in the genesis of a Tour event in that city. Decatur remains a jewel on the Futures Tour -- "They're talking about raising the purse to $100,000 next year," Schnaer said -- but the Futures Tour in Lawrence is either a zircon or an unpolished diamond.

"Having it here makes a lot of sense," he said, "but I think Kansas City and Topeka have to get involved, too."

Samp has a special feeling for the Futures Tour because his daughter, Kristen, played in it for seven years before earning an LPGA Tour card in 2004. He also has a feeling after talking to Futures Tour president Zayra Calderon that Lawrence is on shaky ground.

"They want to know the support is there," Samp said. "We do know two other communities -- Lee's Summit and Overland Park -- have made a pitch. So we have to decide within the next month if we want to keep it."

Samp and Schnaer plan to discuss their options today at lunch.

"It all really comes down to the function of money," Samp said. "We're wondering if people, now that they've seen the product, do they want it in Lawrence?"

I can't imagine why anyone wouldn't want it in Lawrence. Eagle Bend's course is well suited to the woman golfer, although I'd like to see the women play at Alvamar, too. Then again, Alvamar would pose a potential parking problem because the inner-city course can't match the wide-open spaces below Clinton Dam.

Volunteerism is not a problem. More than 100 Tour participants were taken into the homes of Lawrence residents, and the many volunteers who worked various jobs said they would be back next year.

However, wanting isn't needing, and now it's a question of convincing Lawrence denizens and businesses that the LPGA Futures Tour adds enough cachet to the city's prestige to make it a must-have.

"The community is going to have to step forward," Samp said, "and say, 'We want the Futures Tour here.'"

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