““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
Tee off and take off
To attract top-tier golfers to smaller tournaments scheduled around major PGA competitions, tour organizers have taken to offering free aircraft charters for the players. For the Travelers Championship to be held in June immediately after the U.S. Open, for example, tournament officials have chartered a Boeing 757 to whisk golfers and their guests from San Diego to Hartford, Conn. After 76 people accepted the offer last year, Travelers tournament organizers said, they committed to providing the flights through at least the 2010 season. "We had so much positive feedback from the players that I anticipate we will probably fill the plane this year," said tournament director Nathan Grube.
For the John Deere Classic in July, meanwhile, tournament officials have booked a 767 for a flight that will take the pros from Moline, Ill., to Manchester, England, in time to tee-off at the British Open. According to Clair Peterson, the John Deere Classic's tournament director, the cost of the almost $300,000 flight will be offset somewhat by the $1,000-per-seat donations requested from the participants, which will go to the tournament's charity.
For the golfers, it's not all about saving the cost of airfare, said Peterson. "Making their lives easier is very appealing to them-less hassle, less stress, fewer headaches-and that's what a charter does versus a commercial flight," he said. "It's something that we felt we needed to do [for] players that want to play in our event but also want to play in one of golf's four majors."
Although John Deere Classic is offering only a one-way ride to the tournament, the golfers won't have to worry about being stranded in Europe after the British Open. The Canadian Open follows immediately after, and organizers from that tournament will have an airplane waiting to bring the players back across the Atlantic.