Article was written for Argus Leader by Mick Garry (Click HERE for original copy)
Thursday morning Andy North was trying on for the first time a natty blue blazer that would look like the one this year’s inaugural Sanford International champion will be wearing late in the afternoon on Sunday, Sept. 23.
It was a good look for the two-time U.S. Open champion, who will be representing Sanford and serving as the tournament host for the Champions Tour event to be played at Minnehaha Country Club.
There were a couple tags still on the jacket that needed to be cut off, North discovered when he put it on. Twice before the cameras rolled he went looking for a scissors.
The newness of the jacket coupled with this being the first-ever Champions Tour tournament in Sioux Falls was a dose of symbolism that was hard to ignore. Figuratively speaking, the tags will still be on the Sanford International when the best 50-and-over golfers in the world will be spending a week in Sioux Falls.
“Any endeavor you do for the first time, there are so many moving parts,” North said. “You hope you don’t forget one of them. Greg (Conrad) could speak to that. The to-do list is probably a thousand things long.”
As tournament director, Conrad has made Sioux Falls his home in order to push along the details of the event on a full-time basis. He was previously the director of the Principal Charity Classic, a Champions stop in Des Moines considered one of the top tour events in the nation. Given that the demographics of the two cities have their similarities – both are upper Midwest non-metropolises with a strong history of community engagement – the director sees the potential for the same kind of a successful run for the Sanford International.
“First of all, it’s about the people,” Conrad said. “Secondarily it’s about the desire to do something great. I see that in this community. I see great facilities, I see enthusiasm to be a part of something that Sioux Falls has never been a part of. One of our great goals in this mission is to do a lot of great things for charity and do great things for the community.”
There remains work to do in preparation for the event both from a logistical standpoint and from a marketing standpoint. Communicating what hosting a Champions Tour event entails exactly, beyond the golf tournament, is one of North’s and Conrad’s projects and would explain the effort to get the word out the last week in March.
“We went through a time on the Champions Tour where we lost so many tournaments,” North said. “Now we’ve been able to build back in. We’ve been able to go to some great places. Madison (Wis.) for example, has been a home run. It’s one of the two or three best tournaments on tour in its second and third year and we think we can do the same thing here.”
The key will be to develop a high level of community engagement. Historically the tournaments that depend on big bucks from a few sources – with only passing interest from host cities themselves – have not done as well.
“A chairman leaves or there’s a new president or whatever and everything can change dramatically,” North said. “But when the community gets involved it’s a totally different thing. That’s what we think we can create here.”
Tiger Woods is just 42, so it will be a while yet before the Champions can entertain thoughts of attracting fans via the potential for his participation. The regular PGA Tour, however, has been enjoying the burst of competitiveness from the world’s most famous golfer.
North, who has long been employed as a commentator for ABC and ESPN, has seen some of Wood’s resurgence up close and he’s as surprised as anyone else at both the suddenness of it all and the dramatic response from golf fans.
“What’s happened to Tiger Woods in the last three months is absolutely amazing,” North said. “We saw him in September at the Ryder Cup and he was struggling to get around. He had a press conference there where he said ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever play golf again.’ Having gone through some of the same surgeries he has, you don’t know. That’s the scary thing about it. One day you wake up and your body doesn’t work at all. You can barely get out of bed.”
And maybe you feel a little better the next day, North said, so you go hit some golf balls.
“And then,” he said, “you can’t get out of bed the next day.”
As far as drawing interest to the sport, there’s Tiger and then there is everybody else. His return to competitiveness has pounded that point home emphatically.
“If the world doesn’t think we need Tiger, they’re crazy,” North said. “There’s an electricity around the events that we haven’t seen in a while. It’s a lot of fun – I’ve been lucky enough to be at three events this year for Sports Center and it’s been a blast.”
But can he win the Masters?
“Absolutely he can,” North said. “If you’d have said that six months ago, people would have put you in a home someplace.”