Miguel Angel Jimenez stood in the driving range at Minnehaha Country Club on Thursday morning, stretching with a club in his arms, a lit cigar hanging over his mouth. At this point, a fan approached him and asked for a selfie. Jimenez nodded, leaned over and smiled at the man’s phone, then returned to work as the man thanked the 2020 Sanford international champion and fled.
A chip shot away, Bernhard Langer stood on a practice green and struggled to press his name onto a golf ball, responding to a request for autographs from a fan who had nervously approached the two-time champion of the Masters.
Those little moments made the Sanford International a success in Sioux Falls, and the Champions Tour event returns this week for the fourth year of its original five-year contract. And thanks to a summer deal that wasn’t exactly last minute but certainly took enough time to make organizers nervous, there is an extended future for the tournament in Sioux Falls as a deal was struck with the Minnehaha Country Club to keep it going until the end. 2024.
A year ago, as the tournament began, the COVID-19 pandemic still canceled and limited sporting events across the country, and Sanford International has gone out of its way to market itself as the first major sporting event to be allowed. the fans. They passed largely without incident, and the tournament was a resounding success, with Angel Jimenez memorable celebrating his victory with a cigar on the 18th green and a glass of wine at his post-tour press conference. .
But behind the scenes there were rumors that getting Minnehaha’s buy-in to accept an extension was not the sure thing foreigners could expect.
While the tournament itself is essentially a week of events, his overall presence at the country club spans over two months, at the height of the golf season. After talks broke down for the first time after Minnehaha’s board rejected a proposal for an extension, the two sides returned to the table this summer and reached a deal.
Now, as the fourth year of the event kicks off, there is a strong sense of relief among the tournament organizers.
“I vividly remember sitting here at this exact spot a year ago and being asked about the future of the tournament and saying we have every intention of extending it,” said Sanford Executive Vice President Micah Aberson. “And then wrapping up that press conference and saying to (tournament director) Josh Brewster, ‘We should probably figure out how to do this.’ It was a bit of an adventure to get there, but we’re extremely excited to extend it and very happy that he’s here at Minnehaha Country Club for at least (three more years after that). ”
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After hearing the concerns of the members and taking action to address them, the extension was obtained.
“It was a little scary, but I think at the end of the day the members, the tournament and all the sponsors understood what was at stake for the community,” Brewster said, referring not only to the warm welcome from Sanford International. received local sports fans, but the philanthropic impact it has on the community.
The tournament made concessions to bring more country club members on board
Of course, now is the time to indulge and woo those members who still weren’t in favor of keeping the event going.
“We made a lot of promises,” Aberson said. “The members met us in the middle, but then my eyes shift to Josh and his team and it’s time to execute it all now. I am proud of the work they have done. We want members to feel like this is also their tournament. We want them to be proud of Sanford International, just like us, and I feel like we are making progress in that regard.
A membership tent is new this year, along the 17th green, and plans have been reworked so that the village is put together faster and with less impact on the course. A new freight pavilion has been added to the 9th green, and concessions will be extended around the course. Most of the other logistical changes, however, were behind the scenes.
“I think the players and the fans won’t see too much (difference),” Brewster said. “A lot of it was up front, just in terms of the construction we’re doing. We had to look internally at how to do it faster and reduce the burden on members. “
While the course still receives extra care for a televised PGA event, it objectively looks even better than usual this year, thanks in part to the heavy rains of a few weeks ago and recent sunshine. Ticket sales have increased by more than 30% compared to last year.
“I’ve been coming here for 15 years and I don’t think I’ve ever seen the golf course in better shape than it is now,” said Andy North, tournament host and two-time US Open winner.
“The course is shaping up very well, it’s great,” added Jimenez. “No complaints about it. Hope we have a nice weekend.
North added that the pitch is as good as it has ever been. Big names like Ernie Els and Fred Couples are back after debuting last year, while Jim Furyk is here for the first time. Furyk is vice-captain of the US Ryder Cup team, reporting to captain Steve Stricker, winner of the first Sanford International.
The fact that they were both here the week before the Ryder Cup illustrates how this event resonated with the pros on the tour. They don’t skip this one.
And they’re glad it’s staying in Sioux Falls.
“I had heard rumors that maybe they weren’t here anymore,” Stricker said. “So I’m very excited to come back here and have the guys come back here. I think it’s a great place for us. It’s tough – the greens are great, they’re delicate. And you have a good support system here. People are showing up here to support the event. I was worried when I heard that (the tournament might go), so good news he’s coming back here.