Jeff Sanders wanted to put on more than a golf tournament when he took over as executive director of the Safeway Open in 2015.
“Great golf will always be our centerpiece,” said Sanders.
The entertainment model that Sanders has put together for the Safeway Open, a PGA Tour event that is played on the North Course at Silverado Resort and Spa in the fall, also features food, wine and music. There are concerts on the Silverado Mansion lawn following the first, second and third rounds of the tournament, which will have a $6.6 million purse for the 2019 event.
“I said back in 2016, that we were going to create an event that was not just all about great golf,” Sanders said in a telephone interview last week. “We were going to bring some things through the door that is fun for our fans – music, great food, great wines, and just a lot of fun. And that’s what we’re working on every single day.”
This year’s Safeway Open, which will again include World Golf Hall of Fame member and 44-time PGA Tour winner Phil Mickelson, is Sept. 23-29. The tournament, presented by Chevron and televised by Golf Channel, was won last year by Kevin Tway in a playoff.
Tway won it by making a birdie putt from 10 feet to beat Ryan Moore on the par-4, 10th hole. It was the third hole of the playoff.
It was Tway’s first PGA Tour win. He went birdie, birdie, birdie in the playoff. He is the son of Bob Tway, an eight-time winner on Tour. Bob Tway won the PGA Championship in 1986.
Tway made a late charge, making birdies on his final five holes, including the playoff holes. He and his dad become the 10th father-son duo to win on the PGA Tour.
Tway received $1,152,000 and also 500 FedExCup points. He gets an exemption to the Masters.
“We’re going to continue with our very same theme and just continue to make it a little bit better for our fans,” said Sanders, president of golf events for Lagardere Sports, the event’s management company. “We are committed to making it the most fun event on the PGA Tour, for golfers and non-golfers alike.
“We’re not following Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup, which is a big plus for our field. I believe we’re going to have the best field we’ve ever had.”
Mickelson tied for 17th place here last year. He tied for third in 2017 and tied for eighth in 2016.
“The fact he’s already committed to play in the Safeway Open four years in a row is pretty great for us,” said Sanders.
Fred Couples tied for 41st here last year. It is not known whether Couples is returning this year.
The Safeway Open dates for 2019 are one week earlier than last year, when the event was held from Oct. 1-7. The lineup for the concerts will be announced in June.
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“We like that,” Sanders said of the September dates. “That means that we have a better chance to have good weather. We’re not going to change the model. We’re going to continue to improve on what we’re doing. We’re getting great feedback from sponsors, volunteers, fans. And we are taking it very seriously. We’re implementing it wherever we can.”
The Safeway Open has been the season-opening event the last two years. For the 2019-2020 season, it will follow the Greenbrier Classic (Sept. 9-15) and Sanderson Farms (Sept. 16-22).
The Safeway Open is part of the FedExCup schedule. Safeway is the title sponsor. The five-year agreement runs through 2020 with the PGA Tour event remaining at Silverado for the duration.
The Safeway Open is part of the PGA Tour’s 46-tournament schedule for 2018-19 that concludes with three FedExCup Playoff events. The PGA Tour’s wraparound schedule bridges two years.
Safeway Open honored
The Safeway Open shared honors with the Waste Management Phoenix Open as “Most Fan-First Event” for 2017, the PGA Tour announced at its tournament meetings in December in La Quinta, California.
The newly introduced award recognizes significant enhancements to the on-site fan experience, according to a press release.
The Safeway Open was also a finalist for the Best in Class Element Award for the Safeway Food & Wine Pavilion and the Best Special Event Award for the three-night Safeway Open Concert Series, it was announced.
The “Most Fan-First Event” award honors the PGA Tour event which provides the best fan experience through ticket package options and pricing, food and beverage offerings, parking and accessibility, onsite amenities and social media engagement, according to a press release.
“That was a fun day for all of us and a proud moment,” said Sanders. “We believe we had our best year last year, in 2018, but yet the award was actually for the 2017 Safeway Open.
“We’ve just gotten started with our food, wine, music, golf. We’re going to continue to improve it for our fans and our sponsors, everyone, all of our volunteers as years go on.”
The tournament attendance for the week last year was 82,500, event officials said. Saturday’s third-round attendance was announced at 25,000. Sunday’s final-round attendance was 20,000.
“Getting that award was real motivating for us,” said Sanders. “That says we’re on the right track. We’re building a great event. It takes time. We’re on track. We want this event to be the best event on the Tour.”
One-hundred percent of ticket sales from last year’s tournament were given to fire relief in Napa. The Safeway Open has generated over $6 million for charities in the first three years of the event.