Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Rick Cleveland: The Monsoon Open


When Mississippi's PGA Tour stop began so humbly 48 years ago, organizers called it the Magnolia State Classic.

With nearly half a century of history, it now seems perfectly clear a more appropriate name was available: The Monsoon Open.


The tournament has been played in spring, summer and fall. It has been played at three sites, has experienced four name changes, five different sponsors and one constant: rain.

This year's Sanderson Farms Championship was no different and further proof that no Farmer's Almanac, nor Weather Channel, is necessary when it comes to the PGA Tour and Mississippi. What you need is this: a big, sturdy umbrella and galoshes. At least, this year, no boats were needed. That has been the case in the past.

You know this year's deal. Mid-Mississippi had experienced a summer-long drought. Yards were dying. Trees were stressed. Flowers were parched. Lakes were down. We were under a rare burn ban. And then came time for the Sanderson Farms Championship and, of course, nearly a foot of rain.

But here's what you need to know about the Sanderson Farms Championship. It persevered. It always does. The tournament Sports Illustrated once dubbed “The little golf tournament that could” still does.

This year, the best news came before the tournament ever began: Joe Sanderson, CEO of the sponsoring food corporation, last week announced a 10-year contact extension with the PGA Tour to continue the tournament through 2026.

The cheers you hear are from Century Club Charities and Batson Children's Hospital at University of Mississippi Medical Center. Last year, the tournament raised $1.4 million for charities, including a $1.1 million check for the children's hospital.

Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer Robert Morgan of Hattiesburg, the tournament's executive director for the first 38 years, kept this tournament alive through thick, lots of thin and a couple floods. Morgan just wouldn't let it die. But it finally seemed doomed three years ago.

Enter Sanderson, the 68-year-old self-avowed golf enthusiast, who injected both money and energy. He originally signed on for four years, and this was the third.

That's not how he normally does business, Sanderson says.

“We don’t do short-term deals,” Sanderson said. “Everything we do with our customers, our employees, our growers, our city, is long-term. So when we discussed this, we had no fear of a 10-year commitment.”

Sanderson is nothing if not committed. He is surely the only tournament CEO in professional golf who writes personal thank-you notes to the non-exempt, no-name golfers who go through pre-tournament qualifying. He's hands-on, across the board. He personally thanks the volunteers. Heck, he even thanks the caddies.

In 2014, for the first time in a long time, the tournament experienced perfect weather. We saw what a first-class PGA Tour tournament could be like in early November at Country Club of Jackson. You only needed an umbrella if you wanted to block the sunshine.

The Farmer's Almanac would tell you that's what the weather is supposed be like this time of the year in this part of the world.

So maybe, despite the history, this year was an anomaly. Maybe, for the next 11 years, we'll experience the sunny, breezy “sweater weather” the first week of November normally brings.

Rain or not, Mississippi's PGA Tournament is good through 2026. The little tournament that could is not so little any more. What began as a $20,000 experiment is now a $4.1 million reality — with a guaranteed future.

•••

Rick Cleveland (rcleveland@msfame.com) is executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jackson stole the Magnolia Classic from the Hattiesburg Country club decades ago.

Anonymous said...

it was a great event. I went Sunday and was really impressed with the crowds. If we only had more companies like Sanderson Farms. The firms in Jackson need to step up and continue to support this event.

Anonymous said...

Joe Sanderson is a class act! Has become a true Mississippi leader.

Anonymous said...

For those who prefer Big Government to Big Business, compare how the politicians operate in our area compared to Joe Sanderson and his great company.

Anonymous said...

I got to go Thursday in the beautiful afternoon. Good crowd, great golf and overall super event for Jackson. Just be prepared for a long walk to the venue. Only gripe is very little open spectator seating. Next year I'll bring a chair.
Joe Sanderson thank you for keeping the PGA tour stop in Mississippi.

Anonymous said...

There are no firms left in Jackson.

Anonymous said...

7:39 Payday loan shops and hair weave places don't sponsor PGA tournaments? Damn!

Glass Shaft said...

But, back to the subject of this thread. It does seem to rain more often than not. Of course neither Mr. Sanderson nor the Country Club nor any prior venue had control over that. Seems no matter what month it was set for or switched to, it rains two days during the event.

Hush Y'all.

Anonymous said...

Sanderson Farms will probably be sold in the next few years. It is the last big company left in Mississippi.

Questions Survey Results said...

Really, 11:42?

Putter said...

I remember walking very close to the pros when the tournament was in Hattiesburg - there were no gallery ropes. I remember Dave Hill clowning with his gallery and several other pros who thanked fans for pulling for them.

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Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

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This is definitely a Beaver production.


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Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

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If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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