A cloud of uncertainty hangs over the annual Knoxville Open Golf Tournament in Farragut after losing its primary sponsor.
Food City dropped its sponsorship of the PGA's Nationwide Tour event. Now the PGA is in full swing to find new sponsors and keep the tournament going for its 21st year.
"We're very hopeful that we'll be playing June 7th through the 13th as planned," said new Knoxville Open Tournament Director Patrick Nichol.
The PGA removed previous tournament director Matt Wright and replaced him with Nichol, a PGA official normally based in Jacksonville, Florida.
"I'm from Tennessee, and this is one of my favorite events on the tour. We are going to do everything we can to keep this going," said Nichol. "I think hopefully we will see five to 10 companies take the part that Food City had financially."
Nichol said Food City was not seeing the results it should have as a company that invests hundreds of thousands of dollars as the primary sponsor.
"They were a fantastic sponsor, and I feel very good that they will still play a part in sponsoring this event sometime in the future," said Nichol. "The economy is difficult right now and we totally understand their position."
Nichol said the next few weeks will determine whether they tee up the Knoxville Open this summer. The tournament needs $800,000 to produce a "first class event that is still able to make a substantial donation to charity," according to Nichol.
Nichol's current plan to sustain the open on short notice is by infusing it with local sustainable energy sponsors.
"We are in a time crunch, but think we are on to something unique by rebranding the event with an energy theme. That is perfect for this area as the energy corridor," said Nichol. "We have talked about solar golf carts for the rules officials and other things where the golf tournament is basically a forum to display the technologies that are being developed in this area."
Nichol said he is encouraged by recent talks with potential sponsors. Under the worst case scenario, he said if the tournament doesn't happen in 2010, the PGA remains committed to bringing it back for 2011.
"If we cannot make it happen this year, I think the impact would be substantial. Not just financially, but it is something the community looks forward to every year," said Nichol. "It has some of the best attendance on the entire Nationwide Tour."
Farragut officials and residents said the absence of the Knoxville Open would leave a noticeable void.
We are a sales tax driven community," said Greg Palmer, Farragut's associate town administrator. "It would definitely put a dent in our pocket book. We are going to be as supportive as possible and do what we can from the town's end. I hope they work it out."
Cindy Wawrzyniak lives along the fifth hole of the Fox Den course and said the Knoxville Open is among the highlights of the summer.
"You can get passes and walk with the golfers," said Wawrzyniak. "Last year we sat on our back patio with about 15 people and it was an absolute blast. I've trimmed some of the trees for a better view because we wanted to have another party this summer. We'd be disappointed, so I hope they find a new sponsor."