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SFBC prospers in sagging economy

MADISON – On a dreary Monday morning at the Annandale Golf Club,there were bright smiles, firm handshakes and plenty of enthusiasm.Media Day for the Southern Farm Bureau Classic attracted a herd ofprint, radio and television folks to the event.

In a time of a sagging economy and lagging sales, the SFBCappears to be prospering. Like a golf ball dropped in the middle ofone of Annandale’s lakes, the ripple effect of this PGA Tournamentis benefiting numerous entities. The economy in the Jackson metroarea befits from the influx of golf fans, the pros benefit from the$2.6-million purse and Century Club Charities of Mississippicertainly benefit from the event.

Steve Hutton, SFBC Tournament Director, promoted the positives.Century Club Charities is considered the tournament host. Lastyear, $380,000 was raised for charity. The Mississippi 4-H raised$10,000.

This is the second year for the SFBC to help sponsor Birdies forCharity. Hutton said over 350,00 pledge pamphlets had beendistributed across the Magnolia State.

Giving an example, Hutton said if the pros account for 1675birdies during the tournament, Oct. 31-Nov. 3, that would amount to$16.75 for charity if a person pledged one cent per birdie. Ofcourse, a nickel, a dime or a quarter pledge per birdie wouldprovide a larger donation to charity.

Defending SFBC champion Cameron Beckman made a one dollar pledgeto the birdie drive yesterday during his time at the podium.Beckman won his first PGA Tournament at Annandale and has used itas a springboard to more success on the tour.

Beckman’s championship check last year was a hefty $432,000.This year he currently has won $847,940 and has three Top Tenfinishes. A resident of San Antonio, Texas, the 32-year-old Beckman(6-1, 205) turned professional in 1998. He attended Texas LutheranUniversity and majored in art.

He and his wife, Jennifer, are expecting their first child, agirl, Oct. 16. Jennifer decided to induce labor so her husband canconcentrate on defending his SFBC title.

Beckman fired a 19-under, 269 last year to edge Chad Campbell byone stroke.

“This (SFBC) is a big week for me,” said Beckman. “It’s a funtournament to watch. Everybody is playing for something.”

The Top 40 money winners automatically qualify for next year’sMasters. Many pros are on the PGA Tour bubble, trying to staywithin the top 125 and maintain their Tour card.

“It’s mind-boggling to think you have to win $500,000 just tokeep your Tour card,” said Beckman.

Call it inflation. This tournament has come a long way, baby.Starting in 1986, the tournament was played at the HattiesburgCountry Club and the first total purse was $200,000. In 2002, thepurse is $2.6 million and the winner takes home $468,000.

Robert Morgan, in his 35th year as executive tournamentdirector, has seen the tournament bloom from a crawling infant to afinancial giant. The new fall date, playing opposite the TourChampionship, attracts a marquee of established pro stars.

“We only lose 30 players to the Tour Championship,” Morganpointed out. “Being part of the Tour’s top 125 is a key toendorsements.”

Certainly, the endorsement contracts can easily outdistance apro’s earnings on the tournament trail. Morgan said 150 tourplayers have committed to coming to Annandale. There are only 120playing spots available. He has received 44 requests for sponsorexemptions but only four are available.

Morgan said that Jim Gallagher, Jr., of Greenwood and BriceMoulder have been granted sponsor exemptions.

“Jim Gallagher is an ambassador of Mississippi,” said Morgan.”Brice is a young guy who has won $339,000 without a card thisyear.”

Morgan said that the pros who have made commitments to play inthe tournament have accounted for 130 tournament wins over theyears. Among the notables are Steve Jones, Kirk Triplett, CraigPerry and Poplarville native Glen Day.

Among the tournament sponsors are Southern Farm Bureau CasualtyInsurance Company, Southern Farm Bureau Life Insurance Company,Trustmark National Bank, Canadian National/Illinois CentralRailroad, Mississippi Development Authority, Cellular South andBuick of America, which provides 150 new Buicks for the pros andtournament officials during the tourney.

Morgan said there were still some openings for the Pro-Ams whichwill be held Monday, Oct. 28, and Wednesday, Oct. 30, in themornings and afternoons. They are being sponsored by CellularSouth. For more information, call (800) 856-9290 or601-856-9290.