Zurich Extends Sponsorship Of New Orleans PGA Event

Monday, July 2nd 2007, 4:58 pm
By: News On 6

AVONDALE, La. (AP) _ Zurich Financial Services Group has agreed to a two-year extension as title sponsor of New Orleans' annual PGA event, giving the long-running tournament solid financial footing to continue rebuilding itself in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Tournament organizers, PGA commissioner Tim Finchem and Zurich chief executive James Schiro made the announcement Monday at the TPC Louisiana course, which in April hosted the Zurich Classic of New Orleans for the first time since sustaining $2 million in damage when the storm hit in August of 2005.

The agreement means Zurich, which already had committed to next year's event, will remain the title sponsor through 2010.

``I can look to my shareholders, I can look to my employees and know what we're doing here is helping change lives and helping people recover,'' said Schiro, who traveled to New Orleans from Zurich's headquarters in Switzerland to help make the announcement.

Zurich and the PGA declined to disclose how much the two-year extension is worth.

New Orleans became an off-and-on PGA Tour host city in 1938 and has held a tournament annually since 1958. It has been called the Zurich Classic since 2005, the first year it was held at the TPC Louisiana. The tournament had to be moved to its former home at English Turn in 2006 because of storm damage at the TPC. The event returned to the PGA Tour-owned course in suburban Avondale this year.

Despite a field that lacked a number of top-name players such as Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, the final-round crowd exceeding 40,000 was believed to be a record for the New Orleans event. Nick Watney won the tournament, his first victory on the PGA Tour.

Next spring, the Zurich Classic will run during the last week in March, two weeks before the Masters.

Organizers hope top players will come to New Orleans in 2008 as they prepare for the first major of the season.

``It will be very attractive for players, especially foreign players as they're tuning up their game for the Masters,'' tournament director Tommy Fonseca said.

This year, the Zurich Classic was held two weeks after the Masters, when a number of top players were taking a break from tournaments. It also was the tournament's first year back at a tough Pete Dye-designed course that had drawn a number of complaints from tour players in 2005.

When the course, carved out of picturesque cypress swamp, was rebuilt after the storm, several holes were modified.

``With the variables of the course being new and experiencing some damage, and the plight of where the city was in its recovery, (2007) had to be a rebuilding year for us,'' Fonseca said. ``We accomplished the goals we needed to in letting tour players know the city is open for business and that the course is not only open but is in great shape. The modifications we've made have made it very attractive for tour players.''

Fonseca also is president of the Fore!Kids Foundation, a New Orleans-based group that works through the local PGA event to raise money for area charities.

At Monday's announcement, Zurich and Fore!Kids presented a check for $390,000 to the Laura Bush Foundation for America's Libraries' Gulf Coast School Library Initiative. The program helps replace books at school libraries along the Gulf Coast that were damaged by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Schiro said Zurich and Fore!Kids have raised $5.2 million during the past three years for more than 40 charities.