September 9, 2008–The week of October 11-17, 2008, will mark the first days of a new era in Las Vegas professional golf: the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open era. And while tournament organizers are confident that this year's event will be filled with new excitement and a new format, and big names and big fun, they have made it known to the PGA Tour that they want a new date that comes within the FedEx Cup schedule. Both Douglas Maxwell, the Imperial Potentate of the Shriners, and Justin Timberlake have sent letters urging PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem to think about Las Vegas when and if a slot on the schedule opens. "We've made that well-known that that's what we want to do," says Tournament Chairman Gary Davis. "Changing the format of the tournament was step one to getting into the FedEx Cup. So hopefully that will take place in the future. We're working very hard to make the tournament something that the PGA Tour is proud of, that the Tour players want to come to, then obviously our next step is to get inside the FedEx Cup." Las Vegas pros Chris Riley and Charley Hoffman (pictured) attended a press conference at TPC Summerlin to help announce the changes and other info. Click now to view the official JT Shriners Open website for 2008 ticket information. You can click here to read an interview with PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem by LVRJ reporter Steve Carp regarding the Las Vegas event.
Timberlake is headlining several events during the week including a pro-am on Monday, a celebrity pro-am on Wednesday and a clinic with Las Vegas' Butch Harmon on Saturday. The clinic is open to the public and will take place at TPC Summerlin following play on Saturday. And he is hosting a concert on Friday night at Planet Hollywood that will feature several high-powered celebrities performing with him.
The format for the tournament is now four competitive rounds at one golf course (TPC Summerlin) with the amateur events taking place before the actual pro competition. Davis says that Timblerlake was very much behind the change in format, and empathized with PGA Tour pros as to what it might be like to play with an amateur during an actual competitive round (the old format had two amateurs playing with two pros over two courses during the first two rounds ).
Davis remembers speaking with Timberlake about the format very early on in meetings regarding the tournament: "One of the comments that Justin made during the initial negotiations to get involved with this tournament that I thought was very appropriate was that, 'You know, when I am up on stage performing, the last thing I want is a PGA Tour pro chipping up on stage; so I'd like to come out and participate, but I don't want to be in their way when professional play starts on Thursday morning.' So I thought that was a pretty professional attitude, and one that I think is embraced overall. So we're looking forward to that."
Riley and Hoffman say more pros are discussing the Las Vegas event, and that several of the bigger names are looking to play in Las Vegas this year. Organizers confirmed that Mike Weir, Jesper Parnevik, Bubba Watson and Chris DiMarco are entered, while Riley let it be known that Davis Love III, the 1993 champion, is intending to play. Riley also sees a future where a certain injured golfer could make another appearance in Las Vegas.
"I played a practice (round) with Davis Love and he confirmed to me he was coming," says Riley. "He told me he was playing. I played with him in Greensboro a couple weeks ago. (And) I'd love to see Tiger get here. I think Las Vegas — I think the format will help Tiger. I know he's shied away from playing with all the amateurs, (but now) I think it's good fit for Tiger to come here. I mean he loves Las Vegas, and he's the best player in the world, so we'll see what happens after he gets over this injury.
Tiger won his first PGA Tour event at the 1996 Las Vegas Invitational when he defeated Love III in a playoff. He came back and unsuccessfully defended his title in 1997, but hasn't returned. Playing in Las Vegas shouldn't be a big deal for Tiger because his annual charity event–Tiger Jam–is held here, and his trainer, Keith Kleven, lives here.
Hoffman also thinks the format and the excitement of having Timberlake involved can't help but have a positive impact. "Hopefully the format will make it better," says Hoffman. "(And) Justin Timberlake brings a different side to it. I think you'll get a few more players that didn't like the Pro-Am aspect of it. Hopefully we can get Adam Scott, a former UNLV player, to come. I talked to him last week and he's definitely thinking about coming, which is a nice change instead of, 'no, I'm not coming.' So at least you are getting guys to talk about it now. With a good sponsor like Shriners and Justin, I mean, people are talking about coming to Las Vegas and playing golf again instead of, 'no, I don't want to deal with a Pro-Am at the end of the year', or 'I don't want the do that', or 'I don't want to play three different courses or two different golf courses.' I think it's good thing to have one golf course and no Pro-Am and a celebrity like Justin to bring guys to the tournament."
And Davis says that if all else fails, the event has an added enticement to secure some of the bigger names play in Las Vegas in 2008. "We've also got the secret weapon this year with Justin contacting a lot of the TOUR wives and inviting them to Las Vegas," says Davis with a laugh. "So that's very helpful."
"Once in a while a rare opportunity comes your way that you simply cannot afford to pass up," Timberlake has been quoted as saying about agreeing to become a celebrity host. "That is what happened to me when I was approached about becoming involved with the PGA Tour's Shriners Hospitals for Children golf tournament in Las Vegas. It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be associated with a charity that for nearly 85 years has provided some of the best medical care in the world, free of charge, to more than 835,000 children and to partner with the PGA Tour and its players."