The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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June 3, 2014

Justice: Tournament isn’t about bottom line

Chairman committed to making Greenbrier Classic the best yet

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — One of the big changes heading into the fifth edition of  the PGA Tour’s Greenbrier Classic is the ticket prices. Instead of having to dish out $159 for a badge that includes all of the concerts and seven days of golf, as was the case in the past, golf fans now have the opportunity to chose one concert — Maroon 5 or Jimmy Buffett — and secure a ticket for $60.

“There’s a lot of people hurting today,” said Greenbrier owner and tournament chairman Jim Justice. “A ticket price of $159 is pretty ambitious. There’s a lot of stuff that comes with it. You get two wonderful concerts and golf for seven days. But somebody might want to come to just one concert. So if we price it at $60, everybody can come. That seems better to me.”

Justice said sales have been going great, but he admits the ticket prices haven’t thrilled the number crunchers.

“We don’t want to talk about the bottom line; trust me,” said Justice. “Our attendance is unbelievable, and we derive a lot of income from our attendance. Our sponsorships our unbelievable, and we derive a lot of income from them, as well. But at the end of the day, the two ends don’t meet. There’s a shortfall, and that’s where we come into play as the title sponsor.”

Justice estimated that a normal PGA Tour FedEx Cup event costs somewhere in the neighborhood of $9-12 million. Golf’s four majors — the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open and the PGA Championship — cost an estimated $18-19 million. The budget for the 2014 Greenbrier Classic will be $23.5 million.

"It costs money to do it to the level we’re doing it,” said Justice. “If you just looked at the economics, you’d want to charge the people $500 to come instead of $60. Lowering the price is a detriment to the bottom line. But that’s not what it’s all about. It’s about exposure for our state and a great time for our people.

“I hope people see that as our commitment to excellence.”

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Although Justice promised to have an “unbelievable” field, there are two top-ranked golfers who are unlikely to be part of this year’s Greenbrier Classic.

Rory McIlroy, a two-time major winner and one of the most popular golfers on the PGA Tour, is an unlikely candidate, Justice said, because he usually spends the weeks leading up to the British Open, which will be held July 17-20, playing in Europe. The French Open is held the same week as The Greenbrier Classic, making the West Virginia event a difficult sell to McIlroy.

"That’s a real conflict for us,” said Justice. “That’s always going to be a problem.”

A Greenbrier Classic regular, Phil Mickelson, is also likely out this year. After missing the cut in three straight Greenbrier Classics, golf’s most famous left-hander will also likely be overseas, trying to defend the Scottish Open (July 10-13), which he won last year before taking the British Open crown.

“We’ll miss Phil, but Phil has a tough time here,” said Justice. “His personality is so type-A, and he thinks he can make every shot. This course will bite you. He can’t figure the riddle out.”

But that doesn’t mean “Lefty” is finished with the Mountain State.

“He’ll be back,” said Justice. “Phil’s a great friend, and he’ll be back.”

The biggest name in golf, Tiger Woods, is still in play, although Justice isn’t sure what the future holds for Woods, who played in the 2012 Greenbrier Classic.

“He’s still injured, and nobody knows when he’ll come back,” said Justice. “But we’re sure working the phones, and we’re working with the biggest names in the game.

“Our goal is really simple. We want it to be the best of the best. That’s not just a blanket statement. We mean it.”

— E-mail: chuffman@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH

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