Report: Buick Open ending

This week's Buick Open, one of the oldest events on the PGA Tour, will be the final version of the event, with General Motors pulling its sponsorship after 51 years, Golfweek reported.

Tom Pernice Jr., a member of the Tour's Player Advisory Council, and a second, unnamed source, said the Tour planned to formally announce a new sponsor and venue the week after the July 30-Aug. 2 tournament is played, according to the report.

Pernice said he could not identify the new sponsor, but confirmed that this Buick Open will be the last. Tiger Woods is in the field for the tournament, which starts Thursday at Warwick Hills Golf Club in Grand Blanc, Mich.

"Buick doesn't have the finances; GM can't afford it," Pernice said, according to the report. "From a perception standpoint, you can't lay off all those people and then sponsor a golf tournament."

"They've supported us forever. It's been a huge part of the Tour. I think a lot of people knew the writing was on the wall," Pernice told Golfweek.

Larry Peck, Buick-GMC's national promotions manager, acknowledged that difficult decisions lay ahead but "nothing has been finalized" about the Buick Open, according to the report. "Right now, we're concentrating on putting on a world-class event," he said to Golfweek.

The decision also raises questions about the Buick Invitational, which is held early in the season at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego and has been sponsored by the automaker since 1992. The sponsorship contracts for both tournaments run through 2010, Golfweek reported.

"Golf's been a huge part of our DNA," Peck said, according to the report. "We're having to make some hard decisions."

Scott Verplank, who won the event in 1988, is among a number of players who heard of its reported demise at this weekend's Canadian Open, according to Golfweek.

"It's one of my favorite tournaments, and I would hate to lose it," Verplank said, according to the report. "They've had a tough time, and there's nothing you can do about it."

GM spokesman Pete Ternes said the company is discussing its future role with PGA Tour officials. The company's contract for the two stops ends in 2010, he said.

"Both are under discussion and we haven't signed or agreed to any changes at this point," he said Tuesday.

The troubled automaker, which emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on July 10, has been cutting back on professional sports sponsorships for the past year to conserve marketing dollars. Earlier this month the company placed longtime product development chief Bob Lutz in charge of marketing, and he has said the company will focus its advertising more on products.

GM, which has racked up more than $80 billion in losses in the past four years, is trying to spend more promoting its new vehicles, especially its cars, which it says are competitive or better than those made by its Japanese rivals.

The company is selling or phasing out its Pontiac, Saturn, Saab and Hummer brands and will concentrate on selling Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC.

The century-old automaker has been cutting back on everything from professional baseball to NASCAR in the past year. In 2008 GM ended a nine-year endorsement deal with golf superstar Tiger Woods, who will play in this week's Buick Open in Grand Blanc Township, Mich., about 50 miles north of Detroit.

GM is watching every dollar it spends, and sponsoring PGA Tour events is not cheap. Golfers will compete for $5.1 million in prize money at the Buick Open, starting with Thursday's first round.

The automaker already has cut costs at the open, ending a tradition of paying for dealers to travel to Michigan for the tournament and wining and dining select guests in lavish hospitality tents.

The end of GM's sponsorship is another ripple effect from the crisis hitting Detroit's three automakers. Michigan had the nation's highest unemployment rate last month at 15.2 percent, and the Flint area, where the tournament is held, reported 17.4 percent.

Loss of the tournament would be a big blow to the Flint area, which has seen wealth and people drained away by the decline of GM, once its largest employer.

"The Buick Open is the most prestigious thing we do in this community," said Jerry Preston, president of the Flint Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. He estimated it has "a $10 to $12 million economic impact" in the area.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.