There is a bright side to the fact that the recession will have an effect on this year's Memorial Tournament.
Morgan Stanley, which is in its ninth year of sponsorship, announced in February that it would be eliminating events geared toward entertaining clients. That includes the Morgan Stanley Pro-Am Invitational, normally held Wednesday.
Instead, a Double-Skins Game will be held in its place, making it the first time since 1999 the event will be staged at Muirfield Village Golf Club. Memorial founder and host Jack Nicklaus, who reportedly has lost about 35 pounds since last year's tournament, is scheduled to play, as are defending-champion Kenny Perry and 2008 PGA Tour Player of the Year Padraig Harrington, among others.
"We are pleased to be bringing back the Double-Skins Game to the Memorial Tournament for our many loyal and enthusiastic golf patrons," Nicklaus said in a release. "I've always enjoyed the skins format -- whether as a participant or an observer - and this year we hope folks in central Ohio will have fun watching this unique competition.
"We'd like to express our thanks to presenting sponsor Morgan Stanley for supporting this special event and enabling us to raise money for a great cause, The First Tee (Program)."
Morgan Stanley's announcement came a few days after members of Congress expressed outrage over concerts and parties hosted by the title sponsor at the Northern Trust Open in Pacific Palisades, Calif. Northern Trust, as is the case with Morgan Stanley, accepted federal bailout funds. Morgan Stanley's share was about $10 billion.
"In this financial environment we have to make sure we stay in line with what's acceptable," tournament director Dan Sullivan said.
Fans also will benefit from the lowered tickets prices. Patron badges good for the entire week dropped to $155 from $170 this year, and each one includes a complimentary ticket good for the three practice rounds. Those tickets previously sold for $30.
"We're selling tickets up until tournament time, too, and that's unique as well. We're paying attention and trying to be more efficient in every thing we do," Sullivan said. "And it's not just golf, either. The weak economy is affecting all sports and the entertainment world in general."
Major League Baseball announced earlier this month that attendance was down about 5 percent, for example, and prime seats close to the field normally filled by corporations and their executives are sitting empty in stadiums across the country.
And in golf, the LPGA Tour announced the loss of its longest-running tournament sponsor after this year's Corning Classic. Corning Inc., which had sponsored the event since 1979, laid off 13 percent of its global work force in January, which amounts to about 3,500 employees.
On the PGA Tour, FBR has decided not to renew its contract sponsoring the tournament held outside of Phoenix after 2010, and U.S. Bank is pulling out of its Milwaukee tournament after this season.
Crowne Plaza could be among the next corporate sponsors to follow suit, reports indicate, and the same goes for Michelob in regard to its LPGA tournament held annually outside Cincinnati.
Still, the Memorial remains on solid financial ground, Sullivan said. The seven-member full-time staff that works the entire year has not been reduced, and this year's $6 million purse equals that of last year's record total. Also, media director Tom Sprouse said he's issued about the same number of credentials as usual even though media outlets throughout the country are scaling back on employees and travel.
"We're an international event with a lot of people coming from Asia and Europe," Sprouse said. "The number of requests we receive actually started to taper off somewhat a few years ago, anyway, with such a strong electronic digital presence. It's definitely a different kind of world."
Sullivan agreed with that last statement.
"It's a different environment, and not many of us have ever been through a recession this deep before," he said. "We're strong, but that doesn't mean we're not doing what needs to be done to stay that way."
Memorial Tournament officials have dropped ticket prices in hopes of attracting the usual brisk crowds despite a slumping economy.
Fans crowd around the No. 11 tee box to watch Stuart Appleby's drive during the first round last year.