Sports

Rex Open golf makes its case

The Rex Hospital Open, and those associated with it, couldn’t have had a better finish than in 2013.

The Web.com Tour tournament was won by Chesson Hadley, a Raleigh native. Hadley was born at Rex Hospital. His son, Hughes, was born at Rex.

It was a feel-good event for everyone involved – the tour, Rex Healthcare and McConnell Golf, which owns TPC Wakefield Plantation.

“We couldn’t have written a better story,” said Amy Daniels, executive director of Rex Healthcare Foundation.

Not every year produces such a “home run” at Wakefield, but the three major players in the tournament remain pleased with the benefits of holding it. The contract with the PGA Tour for the tournament was extended in November and the Web.com Tour event will continue at Wakefield through 2017.

“The community and golf in general benefits from having a pretty big-time event come to the area,” said John McConnell of Raleigh, the founder and CEO of McConnell Golf.

The tour likes the arrangement. The tournament, which has a $625,000 purse this year, has been well-received by the players and the Wakefield course is demanding enough.

Rex Healthcare, a member of UNC Health Care, has been the tournament’s title sponsor since 2005. Rex charity golf has raised more than $9 million in the past 28 years, and officials said the money raised from the tournament will go to the Rex Healthcare Foundation for patient assistance programs.

“The funds raised last year helped purchase a new mobile Heart and Vascular screening vehicle,” Daniels said. “This year, money will fund patient assistance programs at Rex such as the Angel Fund, which supports cancer patients at Rex. The tournament is an excellent opportunity to draw attention and support to the programs at Rex.”

No one will say how much money Rex pays annually to be the title sponsor for the Rex Hospital Open. Tournament director Brian Krusoe said tournament expenses are about $1 million a year, and Daniels said expenses include the purse, the cost of hosting 156 players, food, on-course temporary infrastructure, insurance, security and advertising.

While the tournament has been played at TPC Wakefield since 2001, McConnell Golf bought the property in 2011 from the TPC Network of Clubs, a subsidiary of the PGA Tour. McConnell Golf, in turn, inherited the Web.com Tour event.

McConnell, who is serving as a tournament co-chairman this year, said the tournament is “about a wash” financially for McConnell Golf.

“Until Rex became our partner we were losing money, because the TPC had it set up – since they owned the property – that there was no course fee involved,” McConnell said. “So for the first couple of years Rex helped us some on some expenses but not all of them. For this contract period they’ve been very gracious and they’re stepping up and paying our expenses to host the event, so there will be a break-even financial for us and that’s all I ask. I don’t want to lose money and I don’t really think we should make money on a charitable event.”

McConnell Golf owns nine private clubs and 11 golf courses in North Carolina and South Carolina, including Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro, which hosts the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship and the Atlantic Coast Conference women’s golf championship. The ACC men’s championship is held at Old North State Club in New London, another McConnell course.

“Our brand obviously is associated with championship golf,” McConnell said. “We’ve kind of established ourselves as one of the premier brands as tournament supporters.”

As for holding a Web.com Tour event at Wakefield Plantation, there is local media exposure but no national television coverage. McConnell also said there are few tangible benefits such as selling more club memberships.

“It does enhance your brand and certainly gives the members, as I call it, some pride to be able to tell their buddies we’re hosting a Web.com event on our course,” he said. “There are (25) Web.com tournaments in the nation, so that kind of separates you from the rest, just like the PGA Tour at Sedgefield separates us from many other properties when people consider our brand.”

Daniels said the Rex Hospital Open has nine key corporate sponsors this year – including the Carolina Hurricanes – that use the tournament to entertain clients and build their brand. Among the tournament’s other sponsors is the News & Observer Publishing Co.

Official Pro-Am presenting sponsors pay $60,000 to $75,000 for packages that include spots in the Wednesday Pro-Am at Wakefield, on-course signage and skybox tickets during the tournament.

Krusoe said total tournament attendance topped 20,000 last year and has been slowly increasing. The pros on the Web.com Tour have noticed.

“This tournament has evolved to where it’s run very, very well,” tour pro Brad Fritsch said. “It would be great if a lot of the golf fans in the city would come out and it’s been happening more. It’s a lot more fun for us people watching and cheering, oohing and aah-ing.”

Alexander: 919-829-8945;

Twitter: @ice_chip

Rex Hospital Open

Key sponsors for the Web.com Tour event at TPC Wakefield Plantation:

First Citizens

Carolina Hurricanes

Coca Cola

Gregory Poole Equipment Co.

Bojangles

Golden Corral

Anheuser-Busch

Raleigh Radiology

CAPTRUST Financial Advisors

Source: Rex Healthcare Foundation.

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