JACKSON, Miss. — The Sanderson Farms Championship returns to Jackson this week with the first round of the PGA Tour event starting Thursday.
The Clarion Ledger spoke with Sanderson Farms Championship executive director Steve Jent on Wednesday to discuss the growth of the tournament, the ongoing sale of Sanderson Farms and fans returning to the Country Club of Jackson.
Q: How important is it for last year’s champion Sergio Garcia to talk about how much he loves the course and returning to defend his title?
Steve Jent: I think it’s super important for a lot of ways. One, we’re thrilled that the work we’ve done is impressive to a golfer of like Sergio, because for him to be able to think that, it carries some weight to the world’s best golfers that we want to see here down the road. It’s a little bit of affirmation of what we’ve done already. More importantly, having Sergio back is awesome with our fans back.
Last year no one could see Sergio because we had no spectators. It was about 100 volunteers around the green and a few of us that run the tournament. For him to return for the fans and for them to come out tomorrow and see him it really big for us.
Q: What does it mean to have fans back at the course?
SJ: That’s huge for us because as the field gets better you get the world’s best players being able to come here. That’s what it’s all about. We are an entertainment industry. We’re here for people to watch it. We do have the TV product on the Golf Channel that gets broadcast around the world but for our local folks to be able to touch it, feel it and come out here and watch it (is important). I think everyone is looking for outdoor events.
Q: How does this build momentum to improve the overall field of players at the tournament?
SJ: We’ve done a lot to give ourselves a good reputation on the tour. (Golfers) love the golf course. They talk about how it’s the best Bermuda greens they play all year. The crew have done a lot with the fairways. They love the hospitality, city, restaurants and facilities here. We’re a $7 million purse with 500 FedEx Cup points to the winner. We are on par with every other tournament that is a standalone event.
We’ve got a phenomenal field here with major winners in Gary Woodland and you’ve got Zach Johnson, Keegan Bradley and Lucas Glover here. Then you’ve got FedEx Cup Champions like Bill Haas and Brandt Snedeker. Other guys are capturing the attention of who’s coming and playing then the word has spread.
Q: Is there any discussion the tournament changing its title sponsor with the sale of Sanderson Farms?
SJ: Obviously that sale is still pending and I’m not privy to the ins-and-outs of what’s going on with that. But, I think our position is we still have five years left on this agreement. We will clean things up here in the next couple weeks and then we’ll move forward and start planning for 2022. If it does close, that we’re hopeful to meet the new management team and I think if they’re watching this event means a lot to the city of Jackson, the state of Mississippi and to our children’s hospital. All we are going to do is put our best foot forward.
Q: Has there been in consideration in changing the timing of the tournament or moving later n the PGA Tour?
SJ: We really like this date. We like the fact that we follow the Ryder Cup because we might not get the guys on that team every other year but a whole bunch of other guys have been off. It’s a great time frame for the golf course and the weather. I think players are starting to see that they need to play some events in the fall so they’re not behind everyone else when the season turns a page for the new year.
Q: How important is it to keep the event in Jackson and how does this tournament grow over the next five years?
SJ: We’ve got a long-term agreement with the club and we are very happy here. We’ve both done a lot of work to promote this course, to make this course better and one of the best. It’s centrally located for the state and we’re right here to the home of Children’s of Mississippi. We’re going to keep making it better right here.
Q: What will help the tournament grow over the next five years?
SJ: Away SEC football games every year. Obviously, I can’t impact their schedule but we do like it being weekends when they’re not at home. We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing. We’re providing great hospitality. It’s just kind of growing organically. There’s nothing that we really feel like we have to do this or do that. It’s just tweaking things and growing from there.