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Senior golf may move north to Hayfields


A site for next year's State Farm Senior Classic has yet to be determined, but the only PGA Tour event in the Baltimore area could be moving from Howard County to Baltimore County.

Tournament chairman John Mathews said earlier this week that a decision should be reached sometime next week. The event has been played at the Hobbit's Glen Golf Club in Columbia in each of its first three years.

"We need to be promoting next year's tournament," said Mathews. "We are not taking this lightly."

There have been ongoing discussions between the Fore Baltimore Foundation, a non-profit organization that runs the event, and the corporate communities from Howard County as well as Baltimore City and Baltimore County, which could lure the event to a site in Northern Baltimore County next year.

"The foundation's sole responsibility is to generate the maximum amount of revenue to donate," said Brian Thompson, president of Fore Baltimore. "That's what we're in the midst of finding out."

If the tournament is moved to Baltimore County, Thompson said it will go to Hayfields Country Club off Interstate 83 in Hunt Valley.

Thompson said he would prefer to stay at Hobbit's Glen, but it will depend on the corporate interest that some say has been lagging in Howard County.

"Basically, it comes down to where we can get the biggest bang for the buck," Thompson said. "If we can do that in Howard County, I would want to stay. But if we get the same response or a bigger response from the Baltimore area, we would have to look at it."

Thompson added that the only reason this has become an issue is that the tournament's three-year contract ended with this year's tournament, a down-to-the-wire event won by Leonard Thompson.

As of this week, State Farm has not yet signed on again as the title sponsor.

The dates of the 2001 event have been moved back from early July to later in the month, opposite the British Senior Open.

It means that 1999 champion Christy O'Connor Jr. of Ireland, who has become one of the event's most popular players, will be unable to participate. O'Connor is the two-time defending champion in the British Senior Open.

"That was the hardest thing about accepting that date," Mathews said. "But this gives us a chance to get out between two majors."

The tournament has been played in the week between the U.S. Senior Open and the Ford Senior Players Championship for the past two years. In 2002, it will be played the week before the Senior Open, scheduled at Caves Valley in Stevenson.

A source familiar with the negotiations said that there is some question as to whether MC Sports, which runs the tournament and is the marketing arm of Fore Baltimore, has attracted enough corporate sponsorship.

The source said that two of the county's largest companies, Rouse Co. and W.R. Grace, have not been involved in sponsoring any corporate tents.

Dick Story, who is the chief executive officer for Howard County's office for economic development, said that three of the county's other largest corporations - Comcast, AllFirst and State Farm, the title sponsor - have been actively involved.

"I think in the overall scheme of things, having a PGA event in Howard County gives us a tremendous boost," Story said.

Despite unfavorable scheduling and uncooperative weather, the tournament has been a moderate success. According to Mathews, it sold around 100,000 tickets last year, an increase from 1999 when the tournament was played over the July Fourth holiday in 100-degree temperature.

"It's the best year we've had so far," said Mathews, who runs MC Sports along with Lee Corrigan.

There has also been talk of the PGA Tour building its own Tournament Players Championship course near Hobbit's Glen.

The current site being discussed is the old Carroll estate at Route 108 and Homewood Road. If State Farm moves away from Howard County, that project could be put on hold.

Mathews is aware of the problems that came up when his company ran a two-day Senior tour tournament at Cattail Creek in 1997. The event was plagued by rain that forced the cancellation of the second round.

"I think it put a sour taste in some people's mouths," Mathews said. "Because of the weather, there weren't a lot of people in the corporate tents. But most of the people who were involved back then are still involved."

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