TAMPA, FLA – A flashback to 1999 shows the New England professional golf calendar peaking with five world-class men’s and women’s tournaments available that year with fan interest and attendance seemingly at an all-time high. Some observers attribute it the Tiger-boom, who burst onto the scene in 1996, but a quick count of big-time pro events available to golf fans included The Ryder Cup, Duetsche Bank Championship, Traveler’s Championship (CT), the Senior Tour’s Bank of America Championship and the LPGA’s AreaWeb Classic at Pleasant Valley.
Unfortunately, for golf aficionados, the appetite to witness live tour events has diminished over the past dozen years, partly due to the 24/7 Golf Channel and weekend televised coverage and lack of corporate sponsorship, but the great memories we have from that era remain fresh and fond. One very special summer bash for 25 consecutive years featured a cast of the best characters who ever played the game, batting it around Nashawtuc Country Club on the Senior Tour.
Arnie, Gary, Lee, Chi Chi, Ben, Hale, Fuzzy and a host of Golf Hall of Famers all showed up and played hard, while entertaining spectators, volunteers and sponsors. After all, isn’t playing golf at age 50 and depositing large checks living the dream?
From 1999 – 2008, one prolific female Boston-area tournament director – Tracy West – brought these living legends together to compete and shemade it a must-attend event on each of the iconic and regular tour players calendar. Bank of America pulled the plug in 2008 and no other Boston-based Corporate America company stepped up to continue the tradition.
“Those ten years as tournament director for the Bank of America Championship were some of the best years of my life,” said Tracy West at her office in Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor, Florida, site of the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship March 10-13. She was appointed tournament director in April 2014. “We worked hard to produce a great event and I know the players, sponsors, volunteers, fans and the media had fun. All good things must come to an end but the memories and friendships, on and off the course, will be cherished.”
Among the major multi-tasking responsibilities of tournament director – a job dominated by men – is recruiting high-profile players, while also paying the bills by securing major business partnerships. Not many people can claim to have the cell phone number, email addresses and other private information for golf’s best players. It takes dedication, trust and an engaging personality to run a successful tournament, qualities that come natural for Tracy West.
“Tracy West was the absolute cream of the crop of tournament directors,” said Bruce Fleisher, 68, an 18-time Senior Tour winner, including the 2001 US Senior Open at Salem Country Club. “Tracy treated every player and their families like Royalty and her hospitality and genuine enthusiasm for the job was tough to match. She was born to be a tournament director and I’m glad to hear she is doing well today at Valspar.”
After a five-year stint from 2009 – 2013 working on fundraising and public affairs for Massachusetts General Hospital, and sending out a few golf resumes along the way, West finally got the call she had dreamed of on April 6, 2014. Her former employer Pro Links Sports, and CEO Hollis Cavner, asked her to move to the Tampa area and become tournament director of a PGA Tour event that was struggling with player fields, sponsorship and spectator interest. So it was Tracy West to the rescue!
“When I got the call from Hollis Cavner, I was thrilled,” said West, 51, married with a son, 20, and daughter, 18, before ducking into another meeting and planning for the biggest week of the year at Innisbrook. “It was a big decision for my family to leave our Boston roots after 16 years. We still have tons of friends in Boston, but we don’t miss the cold weather. It was not a hard decision to make professionally, because this is my dream job and I love going to work every day.”
With tournament director Tracy West at the helm entering her second year, the Valspar Championship features 18 of the top 50 players in the world, including defending champion and No. 1 ranked Jordan Spieth. The purse is up to $6.1 million. In West’s first year, the tournament grew by 10 percent registering 85,000 fans and 50 new corporate sponsors. This year sponsorship is up to 100 and counting and the Tampa area is buzzing with anticipation of the return of Spieth, Stenson, Hass, Kutcher, Reed and the world’s best players, tackling the treacherous Copperhead Course.
West is one of two women PGA Tour tournament directors and praise for the job she has done so far in turning around the Valsparb Championship comes from some of the most powerful people in golf. Salamander Hotels and Resorts owner Sheila C. Johnson described Tracy West as one of the most capable and pleasant females she has worked with in a very demanding business.
“Partnering with Tournament Director Tracy West has been a gift,” said Sheila Johnson, Founder & CEO of Salamander Resorts, and the owner of Innisbrook Resort. “She is a true professional, knows how to make things happen, and has been integral in raising the profile of the Valspar Championship to even greater heights. We are also very proud of the recent restoration work at Copperhead and are looking forward to many more tournaments working with Tracy.”
Next time the topic of successful women with a career in golf comes up, know that Tracy West is performing her magic at Innis brook Resort at the 2016 Valspar Championship, and that her name should pop up near the top.
(Tom Gorman, a Boston-based golf writer can be reached at email@example.com)