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Thursday, January 27, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

PGA owes Sahalee new date

Blaine Newnham / Times associate editor

Curtis Strange debuts as a senior this year.

Maybe having the Winter Olympics in Vancouver six months earlier in the year was good enough reason to take the 2010 PGA Golf Championship away from Sahalee Country Club.

Maybe not.

For all the raving that went on about Seattle as this undiscovered gem of a golf market, for all the talk about how much the players loved the golf course and the surroundings, Sahalee has gotten the bum's rush from the PGA of America.

Sahalee spent 25 years trying to get the PGA Championship in the first place. Then, after a spectacular showing in 1998, it was asked to wait 12 more years to do it again.

Then last week the PGA of America announced that it won't hold the championship here in 2010 and, while assuring it will be back (probably in the 2012-15 time frame), offered no date or real guarantee.

With the Winter Olympics as a reason to dump Sahalee, the PGA was able to enter into a slick arrangement with Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis., the site of last year's PGA Championship.

Whistling Straits will host not only in 2010 — taking Sahalee's spot — but again in 2015. And after all of that, it will get the Ryder Cup in 2020.

More than 300,000 fans walked the fairways at Whistling Straits last August, and the manufactured links course designed by Pete Dye proved formidable and fair.

The PGA obviously wanted to get back there as soon and often as it could, and that made Sahalee expendable.

You wonder how much the Olympics in Vancouver would have taken away from a golf tournament in Seattle six months later, how many corporations buy tents along both a downhill ski course and a golf course.

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In any event, the PGA of America owes Sahalee a date before 2015, and it should be announced sooner rather than later.

"There is no place our players have ever enjoyed more than Sahalee," said Jim Awtrey, the retiring CEO of the PGA of America.

So why don't they act like it?

In the meantime — and it is a long time — we will have to do with the Greater Seattle Champions Classic at the TPC at Snoqualmie Ridge, Aug. 19-21.

And it's a good thing.

We haven't had a tour event here since the LPGA left Meridian Valley in Kent in 2000 because Safeco Insurance decided it would rather spend its advertising dollars on baseball than on women's golf.

Before that, we had a 10-year run of the Seniors Tour, at both Sahalee and Inglewood Country Club.

The Greater Seattle event is the only new stop on next year's renamed Champions Tour. It has a good site — Snoqualmie Ridge is easily reachable up I-90 and offers stadium-type seating around many of its greens — and a great date.

The middle of August not only features the area's best weather but offers Seattle a chance to get a vast majority of the best senior players.

There is no senior event the week before the Greater Seattle event, which is followed a week later by the Tradition, a senior major, in Portland, and a week after that by the First Tee event at Pebble Beach, completing a convenient three-week western swing.

Believe it or not, this is the 25th anniversary of touring old-boy golf in the U.S. The Senior Tour began in 1980 with four events and survived only because Arnold Palmer decided it should.

With the name change, the Champions Tour seems more dedicated to the future than to the past. It has become more competitive the past two years, not just the domain of Hale Irwin. Craig Stadler has had a major impact on the tour. So has Peter Jacobsen. Tom Watson is settled in.

And in three weeks, Curtis Strange will debut, to be followed at some point later in the spring by Greg Norman. Both are 50 this year.

Norman has said he will play just six or eight times in the United States. Strange, on the other hand, will play as often as he feels he can be competitive.

"I'm not sure what to expect," said Strange, who gave up his job as a golf analyst on ABC because the network wouldn't give him a long-term deal.

"I'm anxious. I haven't prepared to compete in five or six years," he said. "I'll play if I'm playing well. But if I'm playing half-crappy and wear myself out, I'll take time off."

Strange hasn't won a golf tournament since he won the second of back-to-back U.S. Opens in 1989, the first golfer since Ben Hogan to win consecutive Opens.

He wilted the next year going for a third Open.

"Burnout, letdown, all of the above," Strange said. "I had the option to do television, and I pretty much bailed out on the golf thing."

Strange realizes how formidable the competition will be. Jay Haas and Tom Kite want to compete on the regular tour. Jacobsen won a regular tour event at age 49. Norman can still play.

Jacobsen has committed to play at the Greater Seattle Champions Classic.

It isn't the PGA Championship, but who can afford to wait for that?

Blaine Newnham: 206-464-2364 or bnewnham@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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