Greenbrier Classic field still seeking big names
Already locked in are well-known golfers such as Phil Mickelson, Tom Watson, Sergio Garcia, John Daly and defending champion Stuart Appleby.
Added to the list last Friday were the respective captains of the Ryder Cup teams - Davis Love III (U.S.) and Jose Maria Olazabal (Europe).
Tournament director Tim McNeely said his group will keep contacting golfers who haven't committed to the July 28-31 event at The Greenbrier's Old White course in hopes of landing a few more recognizable names.
"There's nobody we've given up on at this point,'' McNeely said Tuesday. "We're chipping away. Until these guys tell us no, we'll keep working on them. Then if they say no, we'll work on them again for next year. We're still working on everybody.''
Persistence is the calling card of the $6 million Greenbrier Classic. It has to be.
The West Virginia event has the dubious distinction of being staged two weeks after the British Open and the same week as the Irish Open - a popular tournament whose field will feature U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy, a native of Northern Ireland. The Greenbrier Classic also comes two weeks before the PGA Championship and the week before the World Golf Championship in Akron, Ohio.
"That's one of the difficult things,'' McNeely said of lining up commitments for his tournament. "Some Europeans stay over after the British Open, then take a week off. Then you have the Irish Open, which is a big Open. McIlory, [Padraig] Harrington and [Graeme] McDowell will all be there, and I understand that. Can you imagine the heat [McIlroy] would take if he missed the Irish Open?
"Next year our tournament date is moving, and hopefully that will help.''
Greenbrier owner Jim Justice has already announced that his tournament will be held the Fourth of July week next year (July 2-8), which could open up participation to some golfers who will sit out the first two Greenbrier Classics.
With one PGA event already under his belt, McNeely said he's using the experience to ensure an even better tournament this month.
"I've done this for a lot of years,'' he said, "and I've done something different every year. We were a first-year event last year, and we were very blessed to have the great vision of Mr. Justice to implement, and great people working on the staff, great volunteers. We have to tweak a few things, little things here and there from a traffic standpoint, from a spectator movement standpoint, nothing most people would recognize. Soften the edges.''
McNeely said he took note of the traffic problems experienced last weekend for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Kentucky Speedway.
That first-time event drew a crowd in excess of 107,000, severely taxing the roads leading to the venue and causing massive gridlock, with thousands more fans not being able to get to the track. The small roads leading to The Greenbrier resort also get jammed for the PGA tournament and the adjoining concerts at the nearby State Fairgrounds.
"Sure I saw that,'' McNeely said, "and I feel bad for those guys. The roads are what they are, and we have a little of that here, especially the night of the concert. Luckily, we got great feedback and people understand that they have to get there early, get parked and get to the concert sites early.
"We'll be opening the gates earlier, which helps, and not taking any parking money at the gates this year will help - the little things that make entry into the concert site, at least.''
The spacious Fairgrounds lot in Lewisburg will be tested even more, McNeely said, since a lot used for media and VIPs last year off the White Sulphur Springs exit of Interstate 64 is not available this year. He said 98 percent of the people arriving for the tournament will park in the Fairgrounds and shuttle to The Greenbrier.
"There have been a lot of [PGA] Tour events that don't have that great setup,'' he said, "to have a parking lot of that magnitude - where you also host concerts - that close to the venue for the golf tournament. We're fortunate as that goes. You look at a lot of the other Tour events and people have to shuttle from a lot farther away.''
Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or rickr...@wvgazette.com.