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Wednesday, June 12
Updated: June 13, 11:41 AM ET
 
The People's Open

By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

One of the reasons why this week's U.S. Open at Bethpage Black is dubbed "The People's Open," is because any golfer can play the tough course that will be tackled by the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh.

Bethpage 12th
Ever wonder how difficult it is for professional golfers to get out of trouble? Find out firsthand in this fairway bunker on No. 12 at Bethpage Black.
For a weekend rate of $39 per round, a golfer can play the vaunted Black Course, one of five 18-hole courses at Bethpage Golf Course, part of the Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, N.Y. The 7,214-yard, par-70 Black is the longest in U.S. Open history.

"The fact that fans can play the course helps generate more interest during the tournament," said Robert Hutcherson, president of the Sports Fans of America, a fan advocacy group with more than 500,000 members. "I can watch Tiger and see how he plays and then I can go out and try to master that hole where he had a bogey."

Although many stadiums and arenas are supported by public funding, taxpayers can't play flag football or pickup basketball inside them. Only a select few professional tennis and golf venues allow fans to play on the surface graced by those sports' top athletes.

Weekend pricing at recent U.S. Open sites Pinehurst No. 2 and Pebble Beach are $325 and $375, respectively, including a golf cart. The stadium course at TPC Sawgrass costs $244, although at least one of the players has to be a guest at the local Marriott.

Air fare to Scotland aside, golf's most prestigious sites are relatively cheap. Play the championship course at Carnoustie ($116.88 per round), where Jean Van De Velde, in the 1999 British Open, carried a three-stroke lead into the final hole and choked. Or play a round at St. Andrew's, where Tiger Woods became the youngest golfer to complete a career grand slam, for $131.47.

Many venues on the ATP and WTA tours are open to the public. Courts at the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, home of Wimbledon, can be used only by the club's 375 members. However, fans can play on all the outer courts at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, N.Y. -- where the tennis world's version of the U.S. Open is played each fall -- at a cost of $24 per hour.

The green behind the PGA
Despite the fact that there are currently seven PGA Tour events without title sponsorship for this year or next, PGA Tour officials are not concerned about the future of those events. That's partly because the Phoenix Open, the B.C. Open and the Greater Milwaukee Open have never had a title sponsor and only one opening has been created from a sponsor's bankruptcy -- National Car Rental, whose parent company declared for protection in November. Three title sponsorships are available simply because their current four-year sponsorship deals expire after this year's events.

"It's a bit of an exaggeration to attribute this to post 9-11," said Steve Horner, the PGA's director of business development. "While corporate America has gone through a significant adjustment since then, renewing sponsorships is part of our normal business cycle. Would an event like Phoenix like to have a title sponsorship? Sure. But they've never had one before."

None of the PGA Tour's 49 events will cease to exist next year because of lack of title sponsorship, Horner said.

"When a company goes out as a title sponsor, (another) company is going to come in and take it," Horner said. When MasterCard ended its seven-year relationship with the Colonial, Bank of America took it over immediately.

Last year, the B.C. Open tried to auction a two-year title sponsorship for a reserve of $1.1 million on eBay. The tournament, however, failed to receive a single bid.

A higher sire
Allen and Audrey Murray, owners of Our Emblem, the sire of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem, had said they wouldn't sell the horse until after the Belmont Stakes. But last Wednesday, less than three days before War Emblem was set to make his Triple Crown bid, offers for the horse climbed so high that the two decided the time was right to cash in. They sold Our Emblem to Winstar Farms and Taylor Made Farm for $10.1 million, three days before War Emblem stumbled out of the gates and finished a disappointing eighth in the Belmont.

Our Emblem
Our Emblem suddenly became worth more at stud when War Emblem won the first two legs of the Triple Crown.
"If (War Emblem) won the Triple Crown, (Our Emblem) could have commanded a higher fee," Audrey told ESPN.com. "But there are still plenty of high-profile races like The Traver's and the Breeder's Cup."

When the Murrays bought Our Emblem for $300,000 last fall, they split the investment into 40 shares. The Murrays kept 22 shares for themselves and 18 investors paid $7,500 each for their stake. With Our Emblem's sale, the Murrays made $5.5 million and the investors took home $252,500 each -- a staggering 3,266 percent return on their investment. "I think when we sold him we were all relieved," Audrey said.

Our Emblem is the leading sire in North America this year, with earnings of more than $3.5 million, according to Bloodhorse.com. Our Emblem's stud fee was $4,000 until War Emblem won the Derby. It is currently $7,500, but it is expected to rise into the six-figure range next year.

War Emblem's name is more than a variation on Our Emblem's name. It also draws from dam Sweetest Lady's sire, Lord At War.

Sunny side up
St. Paul Saints seat cushion giveaway
It's not a whoopy-cushion, but these Saint Paul Saints seat pads were given the same not-so-royal treatment by fans last Friday.
Being an independent minor league team has its benefits -- you can insult authority. The St. Paul Saints, an independent team owned by Mike Veeck, gave out 2,500 seat cushions last Friday with the face of Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig on one side and the mug of players union head Don Fehr on the other. "It was our way of protesting the whole Minnesota contraction thing," said Tom Whaley, the team's executive vice president. Whaley said the idea was a variation of another that came about when Minnesota North Stars owner Norm Green moved the team to Dallas in 1993. "We keep files of all our bad ideas and we pulled it out and just applied it to Bud Selig." In the end, the Saints thought it would be fair to give people a choice. But, according to Whaley, most people chose to sit on Bud.

Tri-Star's star attraction
Collectors apparently can't get enough of Japanese pitcher Kazuhisa Ishii, who is off to a 10-1 start with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ishii had his first sit-down signing session earlier this week, and every item he signed sold out. Tri-Star Productions, the company that is selling Ishii's autographed items, charged $129 for his signature, offered in either English or Japanese, on a baseball; $449 on an authentic jersey, and $259 on a bat. "We haven't had one complaint with what we're charging," said Jeff Rosenberg, Tri-Star's president and chief executive officer. Rosenberg said more than 20 percent of the orders are coming from Japan. Ishii's next start is scheduled for Friday against the Anaheim Angels.

Hey, hey, hey ... It's Shaq Albert
Shaquille O'Neal is styling.
Shaq has a game and a style all his own.
A Lakers sweep of the Nets might be bad for NBC, but it could put a "cap" on hat retailers hoping to cash in Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal's wearing of the "Fat Albert"-style hats at postgame news conferences. The hat is a "Big Apple Newsboy," a variation of an eight-quarter cap that was first popular among the working class at the turn of the 20th century. "We've gotten inquiries about the cap when Shaq has worn it before," said Fred Belinski, owner of the Village Hat Shop, which has four locations in California. "I would have expected it to pick up because of him, but we haven't gotten the calls or e-mails yet." With the Lakers up 3-0, time is quickly running out.

He's Dajuan
Nike has signed Dajuan Wagner, the University of Memphis freshman who made himself eligible for the upcoming NBA draft, to a multi-year deal, according to a source close to the signing. Under terms of the deal, Wagner will wear Nike shoes on the court and Nike products at times off the court. Wagner already has appeared in the company's most recent ad, "Funk Ship," which debuted May 24 and will run through the end of the month.

This one's got a ring
Super Bowl XXXVI Ring
Diamonds are not only forever, but when there are 143 of them together, they make a pretty cool Super Bowl ring.
George Boyajian, the 79-year-old assistant to the catering director for the New England Patriots, received a nice bonus Tuesday afternoon -- a 14-karat white gold Super Bowl XXXVI championship ring, valued at $15,000. "Other than the conclusion of World War II, this is the most memorable day of my life," said Boyajian, a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War who has worked for the Patriots since 1986.

Although the NFL gave the Patriots money for 125 rings at $5,000 apiece, Patriots owner Bob Kraft decided to award rings to some 250 employees. Since Kraft owns both the team and Foxboro Stadium, every full-time employee of both the team and stadium received a ring, each with 143 diamonds.

"I'm 79½," said Boyajian, who also received an AFC championship ring in 1997. "There's no sense in keeping it in the box." Patriots spokesman Stacey James said ring maker Jostens told the team that the ring has the highest appraised value for a Super Bowl ring.

Pay-per-exposure
Video-game maker EA Sports received $221,435 in equivalent advertising time thanks to its on-screen exposure time during Saturday's Lennox Lewis-Mike Tyson fight, according to Eric Wright of Joyce Julius & Associates, a sponsorship evaluation firm. HBO cameras caught the EA logo on the back of the waistband of Lewis, who knocked out Tyson in the eighth round, for a total of 1 minute, 31 seconds, Wright said.

On the block ...
A 1925 game-used Babe Ruth Yankees jersey sold for $100,714 and an autographed 1952 game-used Mickey Mantle jersey sold for $78,750 in an auction conducted by Grey Flannel Collectibles that closed Wednesday evening. Other items in the auction included a 1948 Ted Williams game-used Red Sox jersey ($42,871), a 1966 Sandy Koufax game-used jersey ($32,154) and a 1992 game-used Orix Blue Wave jersey worn by then-rookie Ichiro Suzuki ($11,000).

Darren Rovell covers sports business for ESPN.com. He can be reached at darren.rovell@espn.com.








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