International to likely host final tournament in July
Barring some type of miracle in the next 36 hours, the International -- once a prime summer event on the PGA Tour schedule, best known for employing a modified Stableford scoring system -- will be played for the final time this July. A news conference has been scheduled for Thursday morning in Denver, where tour commissioner Tim Finchem and tournament founder Jack Vickers are very likely to announce the end of the event, which has been held at Castle Pines GC since its 1986 inception.
Multiple sources confirmed Tuesday that last-ditch attempts to find a title sponsor for the International have been unsuccessful, leaving Vickers, one of pro golf's more visible tournament hosts, with little choice but to terminate the event. One source with direct knowledge of the situation called the chances of finding corporate support between now and Thursday "an extreme longshot" and pointed out that Vickers has been without a title sponsor since 2003.
The announcement will end a rough final stretch for Vickers and the tournament he tried desperately to make one of the tour's premier stops. In recent years, the Denver oilman even talked about offering a $10 million purse -- about 50 percent larger than the total prize money of last year's U.S. Open -- in an effort to lure golf's biggest stars. Ten years ago, the International was safely ensconced on the tour's "second tier" with other big non-majors such as Doral and the Memorial, consistently drawing excellent fields on August dates that often came right after the PGA Championship.
Vickers recently lobbied the tour for a World Golf Championships event, but when American Express bailed on its WGC sponsorship last year, the tournament and its new sponsor (Computer Associates) opted to move to Doral, where it will be played in late March. Despite the uniqueness of the International, it always had some inherent problems. A lot of players didn't care for the effect that Denver's high altitude had on their games, and afternoon thunderstorms forced suspensions of play on a regular basis.
The advent of the FedEx Cup caused a shuffling of the tour schedule -- the International was moved to early July in what basically amounts to a swap of weeks with the playoff event in Chicago, formerly the Western Open. Instead of upgrading his tournament, Vickers had been deprioritized, and his growing frustration with the tour had become apparent in recent months.
With the cost of hosting a tour stop running in excess of $8 million, however, title sponsorship falls somewhere between essential and mandatory. Vickers has been unable to come up with such a partner, meaning a tournament that features a five-star list of champions -- Greg Norman, Davis Love III (twice), Phil Mickelson (twice), Vijay Singh, David Toms and Ernie Els -- will be put to sleep after 21 years.
John Hawkins is a senior writer for Golf World magazine.