The Bitter End A victim of the Tour's new economics, Pleasant Valley belied its name during the final playing of the CVS Charity Classic

August 02, 1998

Pleasant Valley Country Club is located in the heart of Sutton,
Mass., a modest, blue-collar town 15 minutes from Worcester, a
half hour from Providence, and a world away from commissioner
Tim Finchem's image of a PGA Tour stop in the 21st century.

Sutton is as exotic as an auto-parts store. It has 8,200
residents, one traffic light, three gas stations and 10
full-time cops. Asked what's the most frequent complaint from
citizens, a member of the Sutton P.D. says, "Loose cows." The
Pleasant View Motor Lodge (one bed $48; two beds $50) is the
only hotel in town and has never been confused with the Four
Seasons, so most of the pros stay in Providence. That was one of
the problems facing Pleasant Valley as its 32-year affiliation
with the Tour came to a bitter end with last week's CVS Charity
Classic: Too much Mayberry, not enough Turnberry. "I know this
sounds ridiculous," says Brad Faxon, a 14-year Tour veteran who
grew up in Barrington, R.I., "but guys don't like to drive 45
minutes to their hotel. Let's face it, the guys out here, we're
spoiled."

More so each year. In 1999 the Tour will add three glamour
events, the World Golf Championships, each offering a $5 million
purse. A four-year TV contract also begins in 1999, and prize
money is rising faster than shares in Pfizer. Life is good for
the Tour, and as a consequence, Tour life is over for Pleasant
Valley. Steve Pate won the final CVS Charity Classic by a stroke
over Scott Hoch and Bradley Hughes. After Pate collected his
check for $270,000--the total purse was $1.5 million, smallest
on the circuit behind the $1.2 million Deposit Guaranty Classic
in Madison, Miss.--the PGA Tour pulled up stakes and pulled out
of Sutton for good. Next year the LPGA will move to Pleasant
Valley, and the Canon Greater Hartford Open will become the PGA
Tour's only stop in New England.

To no one's surprise, Ted Mingolla, the feisty general chairman
of the Pleasant Valley tournament, didn't let the Tour leave
without a fight. "It's a joke," he says. "We didn't do anything
to deserve this. The Tour told me they were moving to Seattle,
and that's all there is to it. Then Finchem called and said he
knew they were treating us unfairly, but there's no way around
it. They offered a bunch of lame excuses, but everyone knows
they just want to create openings for those World events."

Mingolla's father, Cuz, founded the tournament in 1965, and his
family has run it ever since (Ted's son Stephen was the last
tournament director), which was never an easy ride. The
tournament struggled through 12 names and eight sponsors, not
including the Mingollas themselves, who, says Ted, have kicked in
their own money to keep the tournament afloat. Some high-profile
players, such as Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman, came to Pleasant
Valley and never returned.

The old-style dedication of the Mingollas engendered a fierce
loyalty in a small core of name players who did return most
years--Faxon, Paul Azinger, Peter Jacobsen and Fuzzy Zoeller,
among others--but the tournament was ultimately viewed as an
antiquated, small-town event that didn't fit the Tour's global
motif. In an increasingly corporate world, Pleasant Valley was
seen as a mom-and-pop operation, and for good reason: That's
exactly what it was.

"We're making a big mistake," says John Cook, who won at
Pleasant Valley in '96 and finished 15th last week. "We've got a
good tournament here, on a good course with a great sponsor. We
should not be pulling out. I hear people say, 'What's Sutton,
Massachusetts?' Well, what's Augusta, Georgia? It's a small
town. So what?"

Cook says the attitude of today's top players, awash in money
and opportunities, is one of the factors that helped kill off
Pleasant Valley. "It's laughable," he says. "You see guys come
in and complain about their free car. It's like, 'Hey, how come
he got a Park Avenue and I only got a LeSabre?'"

Tom Ryan, president and CEO of CVS, the drugstore chain that
teamed up with Pleasant Valley in '96, says his company was
willing to continue as title sponsor into the next century,
gradually raising CVS's contribution to $3 million a year, but
he didn't want to hold the tournament when the Tour proposed,
the week before the British Open, which makes it difficult to
lure the best players. As it was, last week just three of the
top 25 on the money list (Jim Furyk, Hoch and Cook) teed it up
in Sutton.

The only alternative dates the Tour offered were Aug. 26-29,
opposite the World Series of Golf, in Akron, which is to be
renamed the NEC Invitational next year and become one of the
World tour events. Nobody thinks competing against a World event
will be easy. If it was, Aug. 26-29 on the '99 schedule would
not be occupied by TBA. Ryan requested a week in September, but
Finchem's dance card was full. "They said they couldn't do it,
and we walked away," says Ryan, who hastens to add, "It's hard
for me to complain about being a small fish getting eaten up by
a big fish. I mean, we buy neighborhood drugstores at a rate of
about one a day. It's business."

Ric Clarson, the Tour's vice president of tournament business
affairs, says the demise of Pleasant Valley was due to "an
unfortunate set of circumstances surrounding sponsorship and
scheduling." According to Clarson, this is the first time since
1986 that a tournament with "an unencumbered date" has been
dropped from the schedule, and he insists it's not the start of
a trend in which small-market, small-money tournaments are
abandoned to make room for bigger events.

Still, the fate of the CVS Classic, plus the addition of the
World events and the hefty increase in the amount of prize money
that tournaments must put up to satisfy the Tour, have raised
questions about the future of some events. For now, the
organizers of the smaller stops are taking the party line and
repeating the mantra of the endangered: The Tour is deep enough
to support two tournaments in one week. It will have to be if
the sponsor-less Tucson Open, for example, is to survive.
Although tournament director Judy McDermott has a contract with
the Tour through 2002, starting next year Tucson will be played
opposite the Feb. 24-28 Andersen Consulting Match Play
Championship, a World event to be held at La Costa for the 64
top-ranked players.

"We don't want to play opposite [the match play], but the Greg
Normans of the world have never come to Tucson anyway," says
McDermott, who adds that she's in negotiations with a new title
sponsor to replace Chrysler, which dropped out after this year's
tournament. "In '92 Lee Janzen won our tournament, and nobody
knew who Lee Janzen was. So we'll get players like that, plus a
few guys like John Daly, who isn't in the top 64 in the World
Ranking right now."

September's B.C. Open not only takes place in a small market
(Endicott, N.Y., 75 miles from Syracuse), but also is one of the
few Tour events without a title sponsor. "It's tough to have a
corporate sponsor come in when you're competing against college
football," says tournament director Mike Norman. "The majority
of the title sponsors are looking for TV ad time."

It will only get tougher for the B.C., which from 2000 through
2002 will be played opposite the British Open. (The Deposit
Guaranty is scheduled opposite the British in '99.) Texas Open
tournament director Tony Piazzi can relate. His event, which he
admits hasn't always been a picture of health, will be played at
the same time as the biggest competition in golf in '99. "We'd
certainly rather not be competing against the [Sept. 24-26]
Ryder Cup," Piazzi says. "But we think there's going to be a lot
of attention on golf that week, and we're going to do everything
we can to fashion a silk purse out of the date."

Piazzi has reason for optimism. The Texas Open has a contract
through 2000 and a new title sponsor in Westin Hotels and
Resorts. "We've been challenged by the Tour to elevate our
performance," he says, "and I think we're in a position to do
that. We're much closer to the center of the ring than we were a
year ago."

Is the Tour deep enough to support these tournaments? Parity is
undeniable, what with players such as Trevor Dodds (Greensboro),
J.P. Hayes (Westchester), Joe Durant (Western) and Olin Browne
(Hartford) picking up winner's crystal already this year. Fans
on-site may not mind, but corporate America isn't big on parity.
Corporate America wants the whopper TV ratings, and if Tiger
isn't playing--much less anyone else in the top 64--odds are
other sponsors will follow the lead of CVS, which could spell
DOA for the Tour's second-tier towns. "I think the message is
loud and clear," says Mingolla. "If you're a small-market
tournament, you're done. The B.C. Open, Milwaukee, Texas--watch
out. The Tour has to create dates, and I don't know how it can
do it without squeezing out the little guys."

Clarson said that many players weren't sad to see the Sutton
stop dropped from the schedule. While Mingolla's friends and the
native New Englanders on the Tour were upset, the four players
on the nine-man Tour policy board--Jay Haas, Tom Lehman, Davis
Love III and Mark O'Meara--approved the Tour's position.

That fact was not lost on those who have supported the Sutton
tournament. "Look at a guy like Love," says Tour veteran Billy
Andrade, who was born in Fall River, Mass., and attended the
tournament as a child. "He went along with this, but he has
never even been here. [In fact, Love played at Pleasant Valley
in 1986 and '88.] They looked at the schedule, saw what was weak
and killed it. As a fan and as a guy who grew up around here, I
think that sucks."

The final Pleasant Valley field included the Tour's leading
antagonist, Mac O'Grady. A passionate ally of the Mingollas and
a thorn in Finchem's side, the eccentric O'Grady agreed to be
interviewed by SI last Friday night, but only after he chased
one of his playing partners, Michael Christie, a Tour player
from Greenville, S.C., down the clubhouse steps and challenged
him to a fist fight. (Christie and O'Grady had been arguing on
the course.) Without coming to blows with Christie, O'Grady
returned for the interview, during which he fired a series of
shots at Finchem and the Tour, all in defense of Mingolla and
the good people of Sutton.

"What did this community do wrong? Nothing," said O'Grady, who
had missed the cut (72-73-145). "They paid their dues. They
supported the tournament. They did everything asked of them, and
now what? The PGA Tour turned its back on them. It's like a wife
who works two jobs to put her husband through medical school.
Then, when he's a doctor, he tells her, 'See you later.' For
Finchem, the long-term goal is to go global, and the little guy
is going to get squashed."

On his last night in Sutton, O'Grady said he was going to stop
by Tony's, a popular pizza joint less than a mile from the 1st
tee. He said that in the old days a lot of the players, caddies,
writers and fans went there. "You could sit in there all night,
have a few beers and talk golf," O'Grady said. "But no more.
Small-town America is dead. The angel has a broken wing. The PGA
Tour is going global, and the magic of this game is gone."

Let the record show that it left in a Park Avenue, not a
LeSabre.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY WINSLOW TOWNSON DARK DAY After 32 years, the Tour gave up on Pleasant Valley. [Man riding golf cart on empty course] COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY WINSLOW TOWNSON LAST CALL Three generations of Mingollas, including Ted, this year's tournament chairman, have run the Pleasant Valley event. [Ted Mingolla] COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY WINSLOW TOWNSON APT FINALE Pate, whose last Tour victory came in '92, preserved the tournament's tradition of never having a repeat winner. [Steve Pate golfing]

"I think the message is clear," says Mingolla. "If you're a
small-market tournament, you're done."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
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Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
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