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Firestone Country Club's Latest Golf Tournament Draws Enthusiastic, but Smaller Crowds

photo of Steve Hogan and Tom Burns
Steve Hogan (right) from Akron and Tom Burns from Munroe Falls say fans are missing out on world-class golf this year, since the crowds for the Senior Players Championship are smaller than the Bridgestone Invitational.

Akron's first Bridgestone Senior Players Championship golf tournament wrapped up Sunday. But its economic impact remains to be seen.

The seniors event replaces the Bridgestone Invitational, which was moved to Memphis and renamed last year after Bridgestone declined to renew its sponsorship.

Tom Burns from Munroe Falls was at Firestone Country Club over the weekend for the event and has volunteered several times in the past. He said the crowds seemed smaller compared to the PGA Tour that came through the club for two decades.

“We’re able to get up close, but it’s not nearly the event as when the real pros are here. And it’s a fundraiser for Akron. They raise an awful lot of money for the hospitals. And they won’t raise as much money, obviously, with a lesser crowd.”

Firestone has hosted PGA tournaments since 1954. Burns said he came to the Senior Players Championship to see golf legends on a challenging course.

“If you like golf, where would you rather be? This is beautiful. You’re out here on the finest course in Ohio watching top-flight golf.

“Hopefully [more people] will come. The other thing about this tournament is, there’s no cut. So the same players are going to play for all four days. That’s nice. You can see the guys you’re interested in. For old people like us, we recognize a lot these players because we’ve been watching them for years on TV.”

Rheannon Dick from Canton has attended for several years and said the new event has a different feel.

“I think it’s a year of adjustment going from the invitational back down to the senior level. Because it’s the first year, people don’t really know what to expect. But once they realize it’s the same quality -- the same awesome venue as years past -- I think the crowd’s going to grow.”

A spokeswoman for the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship said the average local impact for similar events is about $15 million. But officials with the new, Memphis-based tournament which replaces the former Bridgestone Invitational tell WMC-TV that the impact there could be at least $40 million.

Northern Ohio Golf Charities donated about $1 million from the prior event in 2017. But in 2002 – when Firestone last hosted a seniors event – their take was about half that.