PGA tournament attracting more top golfers

By ANTHONY WARREN,

If it seems the Sanderson Farms Championship is a little earlier this year, it is.

The earlier time is one of the many changes Northsiders will notice at the event this year, which carries the largest purse in tournament history and promises to bring in even more top professional golfers than in years past.

The tournament is slated for September 16-22 at the Country Club of Jackson.

This year, the championship is drawing top players from the PGA Tour, in part, because of its new date. The event is no longer opposite of other PGA events. Also, the winner gets a coveted automatic invite to play in the PGA Masters Tournament and a share of a much larger $6.6 million purse, said Century Club Charities Executive Director Steve Jent.

“The way it works in August is that if you win a full FedExCup points event, you get invited to the Masters,” he said. “We’re in the same boat as the Wyndham Championship and the Honda Classic.”

Last year, the purse was about $4.4 million. But to be a full points event, the purse had to grow to around the $6.6 million mark, Jent explained.

Funding for the purse comes from corporate sponsors, including the title sponsor, the PGA itself and the tournament’s contract with the Golf Channel to televise play.

Several major names in professional golf have already committed, including Brant Snedeker, Bill Haas, Zach Johnson, Jason Dufner, Charley Hoffman and Kim Si-Woo.

Johnson won the 2007 Masters and the 2015 Open Championship, while Dufner won the 2013 PGA Championship. Snedeker was the 2007 PGA Rookie of the year and the 2012 FedEx Cup champion. Si-Woo won the 2017 Players Championship, the youngest to do so.

Former Sanderson Farms winners are also returning, including Peter Malnati, the 2015 champion, Nick Taylor, the 2014 winner and Scott Stallings, who took home the trophy in 2012.

“A European tour has their version of the Players Championship that week, so (some European golfers) won’t play here, but that’s just for this year,” Jent said. “It’s going to be a really good field.”

On average, Sanderson Farms draws about 30,000 to the metro area each year. Those visitors have an economic impact on the area of about $26 million.

Jent is hoping this year’s strong field will mean even more people will make their way to the St. Andrew’s Drive event.

Several factors could play in the tourney’s favor. The weather in September will be warmer and hopefully drier than in October and November.

Rain has been known to hamper play at the event. The tournament was cancelled 2009 as a result of torrential rains. At other times, tourney play was delayed or shortened as a result of the weather. 

“We hope that the crowd will increase,” he said. “The Monday pro-am has sold out. The Tuesday pro-am has one spot left.” 

Jent said the event would not be a success without its volunteers. About 1,000 volunteers are needed for the tournament. Opportunities to serve include working in admissions, assisting caddies, serving behind the scenes with PGA Tour media officials or working the Golf Channel as spotters or microphone operators.

Volunteers pay a nominal fee to participate, which is used to help offset tournament expenses. All volunteers receive a shirt, hat and guest pass good for every day of the event.

Several volunteer spots have already filled up, but Jent said some good opportunities are still available to anyone interested. “You can still go to our website and sign up, and we’ll plug you into an area based on your preference.”

Proceeds from the tournament benefit the Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital as well as other charities across the state. Last year, Century Club gave Friends of Children’s Hospital $1.25 million and another $260,000 to $270,000 to another 40 or so charities.

Local beneficiaries have included the Redeemer School and Stewpot Community Services, Hope House, the Mississippi Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association of Mississippi and Young Life. 

“We try to spread it out. A $5,000 donation to some of these folks is a major part of their annual budgets,” he said. “We’re proud to support them.”

For more information, log onto sandersonfarmschampionship.com.

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