Lake Norman & Mooresville

River Run ready to host Chiquita Classic

When River Run Country Club took over as host of the Chiquita Classic last year, Thomas Federl found he had to spend as much time overseeing the club staff as the tournament itself.

Not this year: according to Federl, preparations for the club’s upcoming PGA Tour event are ahead of schedule.

“We are further ahead than we were last year,” said Federl, the Chiquita Classic’s tournament director the past four years. “The first year was a little more tricky, but the membership and the staff here are so supportive and so into the tournament that they don’t need their hands held anymore.

“For us, it was the third new facility (in four years) … and it makes a big difference, because it’s the volunteers and the club personnel who have a major impact on the outcome. Now being in their second year, they now know the ropes. It’s so much easier, because we can focus on (the tournament) because the staff is all set.”

The Chiquita Classic, which begins Monday with practice and pro-am rounds; the actual tournament begins Thursday, is the second of four events that make up the season-ending PGA Tour Finals. The field is composed of the top 75 players from the Tour’s regular season and players ranked No. 126-200 on the PGA Tour.

The tournament not only has a bigger purse – $1 million, with $180,000 going to the winner – but 25 PGA Tour tour cards will go to the top finishers over the four-event swing. An additional 25 tour cards will go to the top 25 in earnings on the Tour.

That means this year’s Chiquita Classic will have some notable players in the field, including three former majors winners: Ben Curtis, the 2003 British Open champion; Trevor Immelman, the 2008 Masters champion; and 2009 PGA Championship winner Y.E. Yang.

“There’s a lot more buzz about the tournament, because of people who were exposed to it last year,” Federl said. “We’ve increased some of the facilities and have had more ticket sales. Two weeks ago, we hit the number of ticket sales we had last year. The public has responded nicely. … Slowly but surely, it should grow every year.”

Even though this year’s Chiquita Classic hasn’t been held yet, Federl is already thinking about next year’s tournament, which will be the final year of a three-year contract to hold the event at River Run.

For starters, Federl said that next year’s tournament may be played a week later to avoid the Labor Day weekend, and talks are underway to extend the tournament’s contract with River Run for another three years.

That could mean something more for the Chiquita Classic in future years, Federl said: making it the final event of the Tour Finals.

“We’ve been told we’re the most successful in all aspects of the four Finals events, in terms of spectators and sponsorship sales,” Federl said. “The last (event) is in Ponte Vedra (Fla., near Jacksonville), and they’ve just struggled tremendously with the ( Tour Championship) down there, even though it’s the last event. So we’ve talked to them about the option of rotating us into the final spot of the season once in a while. That would be something we would be very, very interested in.

“The fact that this is such a popular event here – the players love it, we get a lot of PR and we get a lot of spectators – we’re using that as a little bit of a negotiating tool. Hopefully it will come to fruition; maybe not next year, but we’ll see.”