Vote passes; Harding Park to host Prez Cup, more

SAN FRANCISCO -- Nearly 19 months after Tiger Woods outlasted John Daly in a classic showdown, the official word finally came down Tuesday: The best golfers in the world really will return to Harding Park.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved the city's revised agreement with the PGA Tour by a 9-1 vote. That means five tournaments will come to Harding Park in the next 12 years, starting with the Presidents Cup in October 2009.
Tuesday's decision, reached only after feverish back-room negotiating the previous three weeks, did more than end lingering uncertainty about Harding's future as a venue for big-time golf. It also allowed the PGA Tour to add another layer to its rearranged schedule in the coming years -- a West Coast course to occasionally host elite events.

That gives the tour a chance to potentially push the conclusion of those tournaments into prime time on the East Coast, typically a boon for all-important television ratings.

The deal with San Francisco calls for the Presidents Cup in '09; the Schwab Cup, the Champions Tour's season-ending event, in 2010 and '11; the "penultimate event" of the PGA Tour's new playoff series in 2013 or '14; and another Presidents Cup, World Golf Championship or "penultimate" playoff event between 2014 and '19.

The BMW Championship (at Cog Hill outside Chicago) is the penultimate event on this year's inaugural FedEx Cup schedule. Commissioner Tim Finchem had said he was open to rotating playoff tournaments among different cities, as the agreement with San Francisco illustrates.

"We want to play these events on outstanding courses in major markets," tour spokesman Bob Combs said Tuesday. "San Francisco and Harding Park very much fits that mold."

Harding hosted the American Express Championship in October 2005, the first tour event held there since 1969. The municipal course was the site of an annual tournament, the Lucky International, for much of the '60s, but Harding steadily slid into disrepair before a $23 million renovation in 2002 and '03.

The AmEx was the first of five tournaments promised to the city, but the PGA Tour had not indicated how it planned to fulfill the rest of its commitment. Then, in February, the city and tour reached a tentative agreement on a new plan, highlighted by the Presidents Cup -- only to find unexpected obstacles wading through the thicket of San Francisco politics.

City supervisors attached a "do not pass" recommendation to the agreement at a committee meeting on April 11. The city lost more than $140,000 on the AmEx, and officials were leery of committing to more tournaments likely to sustain losses.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, who represents the district that includes Harding Park, reworked financial terms with the tour, which now will pay the city $1 million for each event. The city will use the money to cover its costs and will direct leftover funds to The First Tee of San Francisco. Previously, the tour agreed to pay $500,000 to the city and another $500,000 to The First Tee.

"Now the challenge is making sure the course is ready," Elsbernd said, peering toward the Presidents Cup. "We did it once and we'll do it again. It will be a challenge, but I have every confidence we'll meet it."

Harding is well suited for match play, mostly because of its interesting stretch of closing holes alongside Lake Merced. No. 16, for example, is a short par-4 guarded by a thick grove of trees on the right, giving players the choice of hitting driver (as Daly often did during the AmEx) or safely firing an iron shot to the left (as Woods did).

No. 17 is a short but treacherous par-3 vulnerable to wind off the lake. No. 18 requires a long drive over water, and the fairway then bends left to a sloping green.

"I think Harding was a great course," Jim Furyk, the No. 2-ranked player in the world, said earlier this year. "I never saw it before the remodel, but it was a treat for the AMEX, the guys really enjoyed it."

Northern California has a series of major tournaments on tap, starting with the U.S. Amateur this summer at San Francisco's Olympic Club. Then, after the Presidents Cup at Harding in '09, Pebble Beach will host its fifth U.S. Open in 2010, and Olympic will host its fifth Open in 2012.

Ron Kroichick is the national golf writer for the San Francisco Chronicle.