Constellation Energy Classic officials want their event to become the Preakness of Champions Tour golf tournaments and have enlisted the thoroughbred of Baltimore sports to help.
Orioles legend Cal Ripken was announced as the tournament's honorary chairman at a news conference yesterday at Hayfields Country Club, which will hold the event Sept. 8-14. Organizers of the $1.5 million tournament hope Ripken will add cachet to an event that has had its share of struggles.
"[Ripken] gets people interested whether they are golf fans or not," tournament director Joe Rotellini said. His image "continues to help the tournament establish credibility in the area."
Beginning later this month, Ripken will appear in a series of television, radio and print ads promoting the event, Rotellini said. Ripken also is scheduled to play in the tournament's pro-am alongside Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Constellation Energy Group CEO Mayo Shattuck and a yet-to-be-named professional.
"I think it is important for the city to have a major golf tournament," Ripken said by phone from Chicago, where he is attending baseball's All-Star Game.
The tournament's viability has been in doubt in recent years. In August 2000, the tournament - then known as the State Farm Senior Classic - reportedly had accrued $1.15 million in debt over three years at Hobbit's Glen in Columbia. In 2001, the final year of State Farm's sponsorship, the event moved to Hayfields in Hunt Valley. Last year, it lacked a title sponsor and was known as the Greater Baltimore Classic.
Given the event's travails, its stay in the Baltimore area was in jeopardy, said Rotellini. But with Constellation Energy Group signed as the title sponsor for the next three years, he said the tournament is poised "to go to the next level."
In another change, the tournament moves to September after being played in June or July each of its first five years. The later date brings added competition in the Baltimore sports market -the Ravens and Maryland have home football games that weekend, though the Orioles are out of town - but Rotellini said that is not a major concern for him.
A Champions Tour decision to avoid scheduling tournaments opposite golf's major championships in part caused the shift in dates, said Jeff Adams, the tour's director of public relations, reached by phone yesterday at his office in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
September also offered the possibility of milder weather,, Adams said. The average high for Baltimore is 79 degrees in September, compared with 83 in June and 88 in July.
Temperatures reached 90 in the area by the last day of the 2002 tournament, and the Hayfields course was parched from the summer's drought.
"Last year we played in tremendous heat. I'm looking forward to playing in September," said Champions Tour player Ed Dougherty.
The Champions Tour also announced the players committed so far to compete, including defending champion J.C. Snead; Craig Stadler, winner of last weekend's Senior Players Championship; and Jim Thorpe, a Morgan State graduate and Champions Tour favorite.