PGA returning to Mid-Michigan with Ally Challenge

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GRAND BLANC TOWNSHIP (WJRT) - UPDATE: (08/22/17) - The PGA is returning to Mid-Michigan.

It's been eight years since the Buick Open came to an end, but Tuesday, the PGA announced the Champions Tour is coming to Warwick Hills Country Club in Grand Blanc.

The Club has been hoping to get a tour champions event ever since The Buick Open left the club in 2009, but finding a title sponsor was a issue. Enter: Ally Financial and now pro golf is back with the Ally Challenge, running Sept. 10-16, 2018.

The 50 and older crowd on the Champions Tour will compete in The Ally Challenge in 2018.

The incoming president, Chip Powell, says it's a different tour, but he's expecting the crowds to be just as big.

"Golf fans from all across Michigan have seen them for years and years and years," he said. "So, to have these guys come and really and grace our course again, we're all excited about it."

Per the agreement, it'll happen through 2020. The purse is $2 million.

Several area businesses, including hotels and restaurants, will also see money coming in from the tournament.

"This is great news and I think the employees will be very happy with that too," said Luis Fernandes, a managing partner with Redwood Steakhouse.

He says when the Buick Open was in town, sales boosted about 40 percent from Redwood's parties and increased diners.

Fernandes says now they're hoping to regain that $40,000 - $50,000 lost when the Ally Challenge comes in.

"We're gonna plan on doing some things like we did before. We'll have events going on, maybe, you know, back in the day it used to be tied in with a charity event," he said. "So, the restaurant will be open. Plus we're gonna be going some cooking outside too, so some special parties going on out there too."

They'll be celebrate a homecoming of several familiar faces now on the Champions Tour.

"We're hopefully gonna see a big crowd, but I don't know if we're gonna see a big crowd like the PGA tour is doing," Fernandes said.

Grand Blanc Community Schools is hoping for big crowds, too, after spending years parking tens of thousands of cars on their campus during the Buick Open.

"It was primarily our student groups, clubs, organizations and teams that came out and volunteered their time for as much manpower or womanpower that they could provide," said the district's director of operations, J.P. Adams II.

Their lot could be filled with as many as 30,000 vehicles. Adams says from 2004 to 2009, they raised between $58,000 - $65,000 a year.

"You know, we provide instruments for the band, if they need that. We provide uniforms for the football team. But if there's additional things that they need to supplement their program, that's what that money would provide," Adams said.

Hard earned, and recently hard to come by.

"That's why they see a proliferation of fundraising because we used to have one big fundraiser that took care of a lot of our needs," Adams said.

One of the big winners during the Buick Open every year was the local charities.

Organizers say the Ally Challenge will benefit one or more qualified non-profit organizations in the greater Flint area. They haven't been picked yet.

The PGA tour and its tournaments donated more than $166 million to charitable causes in 2016.


(08/18/17) - It was the premier sporting event, bringing pro-athletes up close with Mid-Michigan fans.

Years after the Buick Open left, we are learning the PGA may be coming back to Warwick Hills Country Club in Grand Blanc Township.

On the greens soon would be some familiar faces who are now on the Champions Tour.

The anticipated PGA announcement is exciting not just for golf fans, but for local businesses too, who remember the impact of the Buick Open.

"When that left us, it took a void. We didn't have that three or four or five weeks of extra revenue from a lot of different sources," said Brick Street Bar and Grill owner Michael Jablonski.

He remembers they were always busy.

"We loved the caddies," he said. "So if the caddies are listening to this, the caddies were fun and as a result, they brought in a lot of their employers, the pros. So we had a great, great exposure."

Exposure that spanned across Michigan, with people coming in from cities like Detroit, Saginaw and Bay City.

"I remember I sat on the Convention Bureau when we lost the Buick Open and it was devastating to us. Not only from just losing the Buick Open or PGA event, but the charitable work that it brought and it gave the community back," Jablonski said. "It's beyond belief what the PGA event did for us locally."

So, the possibility of a return is sounding really nice.

"We need a little bit more highlighting in our area. We've had enough negativity. We need positive for Genesee County, the Flint area. And this will help," Jablonski said.

The announcement is expected Tuesday morning at the Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club. We'll be sure to keep you updated.

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