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Not So Hot Ticket - Recession Hurts Memorial Ticket Sales

A few years ago, it was nearly impossible to get a ticket to the Memorial Golf Tournament unless you knew someone. Now, Jack Nicklaus's tournament is offering incentives to get the general public to buy passes. Insiders blame the bad economy. Next to professional golf's four major championships, Jack Nicklaus's Memorial tournament is seen as a must-play stop on the PGA tour. Through the years the event and its big prize money have attracted some of golfing's greatest names: Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. The tournament routinely has been a sell-out, says Matt Colahan, a Dublin ticket broker.

"Every year was sold out through the nineties and early into the 2000s," Colahan says. "It's just been in the last couple of years with the economy that things have slowed down a little bit. But I don't think you have to go back very far to find sold out tournaments."

Tournament director Dan Sullivan acknowledges that ticket sales are running behind previous years. But that's to be expected, he says, because of today's economy.

"We've definitely seen a decline this year," Sullivan says. "And it's affecting everybody. The economy has been the worst it's been in many, many years and we're not immune to it. So sure, we've seen companies reduce their involvement and individuals reduce their involvement. The good news is they're not walking away from their involvement. They're just reducing their participation based on what they need to do." Morgan Stanley is the tournament sponsor and its name appears on Memorial advertising. But just a few months ago, another prestigious golfing event Charlotte's Wachovia Championship suddenly had a new name: the Quail Hollow Championship. Wachovia's owner, Wells Fargo had received 25 billion dollars in government bail-out money. Lee Igel is a professor of Sports Management at New York University.

"In a period of turbulence like we're going through today, corporations and certainly banks and other financial institutions that are especially hard hit that haven't come out of this looking too good, are looking really to more or less shrink their image - kind of slink back into the fold a little bit," Igel says. "And take themselves out of the cross hairs."

Morgan Stanley's name is still front and center at the Memorial. But purchases of tickets by corporate clients appear to be down. Lee Igel says sporting events generally were seen as recession proof, but the current downturn has corporations trying to keep a lower profile.

"The perception of cutting jobs in the morning and kicking back in these VIP seats in the evening doesn't look good," says Igel.

Tournament director Dan Sullivan says it's not just the depressed economy. He says competition is another factor for slower ticket sales.

"When the Memorial tournament started it was the Memorial tournament in the spring and Ohio State football in the fall," he says. "And now there's a lot more - the Columbus Blue jackets, the Columbus Crew, the Clippers. There are other options and people have busy lives so we realize that and that's why we're trying to make sure folks understand that they can come out and enjoy the tournament if they haven't had the chance in the past."

Tickets for the week are selling for $155.

One word would certainly help ticket sales: "Tiger." Officials hope to hear within the week if Woods will play in the Memorial.

The prize money for the this year's tournament is $6 million.