Top-level amateur golfers will have a chance to compete for a title this year at the Golf World Pacific Amateur Golf Classic, and participants will go home with their choice of swag.
The Central Oregon Visitors Association, which runs the 16-year-old golf tournament, will be adding a gross division this year in hopes of attracting more low handicappers.
And every golfer who chooses to play will leave the tournament with $200 worth of either equipment from TaylorMade or clothing from Adidas or Ashworth.
The changes come as COVA tries to rekindle interest in a tournament that still draws hundreds of golfers to the region but in recent years has shrunk in size.
“We’re always searching for ways to keep this fresh and new and keep people interested,” says Alana Hughson, president and CEO of COVA.
The Pac Am, which is scheduled this year for Aug. 26-31, had grown steadily in participant numbers since it was created in 1997 as a way to draw travelers to Central Oregon during the otherwise slow fall shoulder season, and a high of nearly 800 golfers swarmed Central Oregon golf courses for the fall 2007 tournament.
But economic recession hit the nation before the 2008 tournament, and the size of the event has shrunk each year since, falling to 550 golfers last year, according to COVA.
That should be expected in an economic climate that has dampened travel budgets everywhere, Hughson says.
“We continue to have a 98.8 percent approval rating, so the people who are coming to the Pac Am are all indicating that they like the experience and want to come back,” says Hughson, referring to a player survey conducted by the tournament. She adds that the downturn in player numbers “must have been economy driven, because it wasn’t dissatisfaction with the tournament.”
Despite the shrinking participation, Hughson says the tournament last year was able to donate nearly $14,000 to its designated charity, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Oregon.
Tournament organizers see room for growth, which they hope to achieve with this year’s format changes.
With the addition of a gross division, highly skilled golfers have a better chance of winning than in a net tournament that tends to favor higher handicappers. And because they will not be competing against lesser-skilled players, gross-division players can play at a back tee.
As with every other flight in the tournament, two golfers from the gross division will advance to the championship round at Crosswater Club in Sunriver. Those two golfers will compete against the two lowest gross scorers from the net flights for the gross championship.
That should help attract better players, says Michael Patron, the Pac Am’s longtime tournament director.
“We want low handicappers to feel like they have a chance,” Patron says. “So that open division is something we are really promoting.
The Pac Am has always given a relatively valuable gift to each participant. But what makes this year different is that golfers will now have their choice of merchandise and $200 credit to spend at a temporary golf gear and accessories shop set up at Sunriver Resort Lodge.
Returning players get an additional $25 worth of credit if they recruit a new player to the tournament.
“We want to make it enticing,” says Patron. “People are excited enough about coming to play, we want to let them feel comfortable bringing their friends and give them a benefit doing it.”
Pac Am host courses include: Bend facilities Lost Tracks Golf Course and Bend Golf and Country Club, Black Butte Ranch’s Big Meadow course, Brasada Canyons Golf Club in Powell Butte, Eagle Crest Resort’s Ridge Course in Redmond, Quail Run Golf Course in La Pine, and Sunriver Resort’s Meadows and Woodlands courses. The championship round will take place at Sunriver’s Crosswater Club.
Pac Am organizers think that course lineup will continue to attract golfers.
COVA is hoping that the tweaks will put the Pac Am on a path to renewed growth.
“We’re basically building all of our campaigns around (growth),” Patron says. “We’ve got the course rotation to support it. We’ve set up everything to support growth. We’re basically forecasting for small growth and hoping for more.”