Tour estimates charity giving down

WASHINGTON -- The PGA Tour estimates its donations to charity will decline by as much as 14 percent this year, the result of an economic downturn that is affecting everything from sponsors to hospitality sales.

"If I had to guess right now, I'd say we wouldn't be off more than 10 to 14 percent with our charitables, which I think would be a victory," commissioner Tim Finchem said Wednesday. "If that were the case, I would feel real good about it. It's still to early to tell."

PGA Tour events are structured as nonprofit organizations that donate proceeds to local charities. Finchem said the tour last year raised $124 million for charity, and his estimate means the tour is on pace to give $12 million to $17 million less in 2009.

Still, Finchem was optimistic that the tour will weather the meltdown in good financial shape.

"We cut some costs. We didn't do a head-count reduction. We've slowed hiring somewhat," Finchem said. "We have more sponsors today, when you take into account our marketing partners, than we've ever had. We have the same number of tournaments, the same amount of television to get out the door, the same international distribution."

The tour has seen economic news both good and bad this year. It recently added its first new title sponsor -- SBS International -- since the start of the meltdown and has agreed to contract extensions for four other tournaments through 2014. However, the tour is losing title sponsors at three other events.

"We continue to be optimistic," Finchem said. "We think this is cyclical, and we're taking steps that allow us to be stronger coming out than when we went in."

Finchem had a dual purpose for his visit to the nation's capital. He and Presidents Cup captains Fred Couples and Greg Norman spent the morning on Capitol Hill doing a bit of lobbying on behalf of their sport, then headed to the National Press Club to promote the U.S.-vs.-International team event that will be held at San Francisco's Harding Park course in October.

"The basic message is reminding members [of Congress] that golf is an industry of $75 billion, $76 billion," Finchem said.

Finchem cited a recent flap over whether it was appropriate for a company to use federal bailout money to entertain clients at a golf event. Although the issue has died down, Finchem wanted to be proactive in case it flares up again.

"Most of the reaction from the members of Congress is they realize the value of corporate sponsorship," Finchem said. "But what happened a couple of months ago taught us a lesson, that this is something we need to reaffirm on a regular basis."

Finchem compared golf hospitality to other forms of entertainment used to generate business with clients.

"You or I might go to a dinner that has Sheryl Crow playing," he said. "You might think it's lavish. I probably wouldn't, but that's my opinion. These are decisions that should be left to companies to effectively use their dollars."

When talked turned to the Presidents Cup, U.S. captain Couples gave the event a financial boost with the reassurance that Tiger Woods "of course" plans to play for the American team. Couples also confirmed he has asked Michael Jordan to be an assistant coach.

"He's a team player who's won NBA championships," Couples said. "And I think there are times when he can say things. I was texting him a couple of hours a day during the Ryder Cup, and honestly every text he came back with was very positive and kind of like, 'Wow."

Some of the decisions Norman and Couples face have little to do with golf. There are team outfits to be designed, for example, for an American team that will likely include 23-year-old Anthony Kim and 48-year-old Kenny Perry.

"Anthony Kim wears his pants down by his ankles, and Kenny Perry wears them up by his chest," Couples said.