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PGA Tour is coming back to Utah soon

BUY.COM Utah Classic scheduled to tee off Aug. 31

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Even if no one seems to know about it, the PGA Tour is returning to Utah in less than two weeks.

Sure, we just got done with the PGA Senior Tour's Novell Utah Showdown Sunday at Park Meadows Country Club, but the BUY.COM Tour, formerly known as the Nike Tour, is coming to town next week.

The BUY.COM Utah Classic will be played Aug. 31 through Sept. 3 at Willow Creek Country Club. The $400,000 tournament features up-and-coming players, many of whom will be playing the regular PGA Tour some day.

The lack of awareness about the tournament stems from several reasons. The organizers of last year's tournament left Willow Creek and several sponsors with bills for thousands of dollars and local charities without the money they were promised. When no sponsors could be found for this year's tournament, it was in danger of folding until the PGA Tour stepped up in late July to guarantee it.

The perseverance of Sandy's Evan Byers is another reason the tournament will be held next week.

"I didn't want to see Salt Lake City lose this tournament," said Byers, who used to work for the PGA Tour. "Somebody had to step up and take over. My goal is to not only stage a premier event, but I want to make it a community event and get kids and families out here."

Byers has been frustrated by the lack of support from major sponsors, the same problem that afflicted the Senior Tour event until Novell signed a four-year deal last year.

"We've done OK in a short period of time, but we have a lot of excess baggage and many people are sitting on the fence," said Byers.

John Slater, a tournament director of the BUY.COM Tour, was at Willow Creek Monday, and he said the PGA Tour was behind the Utah tournament, which he called "way above average" on the BUY.COM Tour.

"This tournament is a huge success as far as the PGA Tour is concerned," said Slater. "The players really enjoy it here, and you'll see another great field this year."

The BUY.COM Tour graduates its top 15 players to the PGA Tour every year, and many PGA Tour players are former players from the BUY.COM Tour.

"The quality of golf that is coming here is world class," said Byers. "These guys are fabulous golfers."

Byers told a story about a volunteer — when the tournament was held in Provo — who struck up a conversation with a young golfer about fishing and all sorts of stuff. After nearly a half hour of talk, the volunteer asked the golfer's name. "I'm David Duval," he said. Less than five years later, Duval was the No. 1 player in the world, and the volunteer had a story to tell his grandchildren.

Besides Duval, other now-famous golfers who have come through Utah on the BUY.COM Tour (formerly Nike Tour and Ben Hogan Tour) include John Daly, Tom Lehman, Jeff Maggert, Ernie Els and Chris Perry.

Slater also said the PGA Tour was confident about the future of the BUY.COM Tour in Utah, despite the problems of the past year.

"We're here for the future," said Slater. "This is not just for this year."'

Because of rumors that the BUY.COM Tour tournament was not going to played, the tournament is short of volunteers. Anyone interested in volunteering should call 495-GOLF.

"We are moving forward," said Byers, who hopes to secure a sponsor in the next month to solidify the Utah Classic in the years ahead.

E-MAIL: sor@desnews.com