Suspense. Intrigue. Emotion. Sweat gushing like rivers. The Cox Classic will have it all this week.
The golf should be really good, too.
This sets up as the best Cox Classic since the tourney hit town in 1996. It's limited to the tour's top 156 players. It's the finish line for 25 PGA Tour cards for 2014, which they'll hand out on the 18th green on Sunday.
But the best Cox Classic could be the weirdest, too.
Golf fans have already had a major fix this summer, the U.S. Senior Open. School has started. College kids are back on campus. Sports fans are pointed in the direction of Memorial Stadium.
Will they remember to stop by Champions Run? Will there perhaps be new fans who liked what they saw from the old guys back in July?
Finally, will anyone be back next year? And where?
If you think the guys around the top 25 are anxious, try being the tournament director.
“It helps to be busy,” Chad Mardesen said Wednesday, Pro-Am day. “Honestly, it does weigh on you. All you can do is work in the present and make this week the best it can be. You don't know what tomorrow holds.”
The Cox Classic has become a summer star on the Omaha sports calendar. Pro golfers making birdies, corporate tents and a giant party at night. It fit the Omaha sports demographic to a, um, tee.
It's been a first-class event since it showed up nearly two decades ago. Every tourney director put his stamp on it. I like what Mardesen has done in recent years, making it more fan friendly, making it the Phoenix Open of the Web.com tour. The biggest party on tour. Welcome to Omaha.
Omaha should want to keep this tournament.
But how badly does Omaha want to keep it?
We'll soon find out. This summer of seniors has become a referendum on the future of flatbellies in Omaha. The contracts with Champions Run and Cox Communications are up after this year. Then what?
Priority One is to find a place to play. There's no tourney for anyone to sponsor without a golf course.
Champions Run has indicated to the PGA Tour that it wants to take “some time off.” Bob Horgan of Champions Run has had members complaining for years about giving up their course. Horgan has a soft spot for the tourney. One year, organizers didn't know it was coming back until Horgan announced it on the ceremony on the 18th green.
Mardesen said he hasn't talked with Horgan in “awhile” but expects to sit down with him after this week. He said he's had preliminary talks with the other championship courses in Omaha and says “there's some interest.”
I spoke with Indian Creek owner Bill Gottsch, who said, “Indian Creek will not be hosting the Cox Classic next year.” The public course in Elkhorn would stand to lose a lot in daily fees — especially during the tourney week but also during the weeks leading up to it.
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Tim Halpine, general manager at Players Club, said the club near 120th Street and Military Road was “flattered to be considered” and is weighing its options.
Courses like Indian Creek and Players Club would hold up well to the web.com Tour assault. But the tournament has become more than golf. There's parking, corporate tents, accessibility.
This tourney belongs at Champions Run. It's a perfect fit.
But I don't blame Champions for saying it's had enough. The members have paid their dues, and then some. Eighteen years is a long time for a pro golf tournament to have one home. Champions was four years old in 1996 and needed the membership push.
The other dynamic to this storyline is the Champions Tour. After an event like the Senior Open, there's the anticipated buzz to get a Champions Tour event. But it's not that easy. And if you get a Champions event, no more Senior Opens.
“We have heard from some of our sponsors that (Champions Tour) is what they wanted,” Mardesen said. “But we've heard from more sponsors who say they want the Web.com tour.”
Omaha will decide what it wants. But it's crazy to think that after hosting the most successful Senior Open in history — and building one of the top stops on the Web.com Tour — this market is in this tenuous position.
The PGA Tour, which runs the Champions and Web.com tours, is the X factor in this story. The tour wants a tournament in Omaha. It would prefer a Web.com tournament. Wouldn't Omaha make a nice spot on the Champions Tour? Sure. But there aren't a lot of stops on the Web.com tour that have produced the crowds and charity money that Omaha has generated. The tour wants to keep what it's got.
The PGA Tour has the power, contacts and money to make things happen. If Mardesen needs help finding sponsors, the tour can help. If Horgan, or one of the other courses in Omaha, requires more money to make it work, the tour can make that happen, too.
What's shaping up here is one heck of a poker game. Who will go all in? Can the tour persuade a club to go all in? Can it persuade Horgan to come back for another round?
Secure the course and then Mardesen can start thinking about what sponsors want to be on board. “We lost a few from the Senior Open, but we gained a few, too,” he said. “We're going to be tight (making budget).”
Then again, they knew this year would be different, would be tough. But it's August. The tents are up. The sun's out. The drinks are cold. The golf is hot.
In a week, they'll be throwing footballs.
“I teach an advertising class at UNO,” Mardesen said. “And I start next week. That's kind of strange to think about: A week from now I'll be in class.”
They've got some tour cards to give out first. Here's hoping the Cox Classic gets its 2014 card, too.