It looks likely that the Bridgestone Invitational will be pulled from Akron's Firestone Country Club next year. Golf writer John Feinstein tweeted Monday that a PGA Senior tournament could potentially replace the annual event. WKSU commentator Terry Pluto says the Bridgestone has been one of the most popular tournaments in the world with a huge impact on Northeast Ohio.
Pluto covered the Bridgestone from the mid-90's to 2007 when he worked for the Beacon Journal.
"For years, Tiger Woods ruled this course. This was his favorite course ever. The players loved coming to Akron because it had some of the stuff of a big city but not all of the hustle and bustle. They were really catered to."
A year without it
The Firestone has hosted the tournament for 65 years. It was called the World Series of Golf until 1999 when it became the WGC Invitational at Firestone with NEC as the title sponsor. Bridgestone took over in 2006.
But there was one year Akron was without the tournament. In 2002, the WGC Invitational was played in Washington state. Firestone instead hosted the Senior PGA Championship. Pluto says there were noticeable differences.
"Not as many fans as showed up. Tickets weren't expensive. Sponsorship wasn't as much."
But, Pluto says the biggest impact was how it affected area charities. Northern Ohio Golf Charities & Foundation has provided over $26 million to local charities over 60 years, including Akron Children's Hospital, the regional food banks and the Akron Art Museum.
"In a good year, it's $800,000 to $1 million that comes in," Pluto says. "In 2002, it was less than half of the normal take. If you're giving out $500,000 less in a year, think of how many local charities get cut out of the deal."
The tournament's value
Pluto, who admits he's not a golf fan, says he appreciates the tournament's value to the community.
"So many people have been volunteering out there for 10, 20, 30 years. And then you combine it with these charities. So, the loss to Akron on this is significant. It's not just people not getting to see their favorite golfers."
"There are thousands of volunteers who help out who never see a golf ball. They're doing everything else. It is not just about being part of the golf experience, it's about being part of the Akron experience."
Pluto says he hopes that in the future the tournament can find another major corporate sponsor.