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‘You couldn’t build this place’

by Ogi Overman

Mark Brazil may or may not be familiar with theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, but chances are he’s familiar with the famous saying attributed to him: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.”

As tournament director of the Wyndham Championship, Brazil likely uses the credo several times a day, if only tacitly. And this week, with the tourney under way and the details multiplying exponentially, he may be using it several times an hour.

There are three sets of details over which Brazil has varying degrees of control. First off, he obviously can’t control the weather and can’t control gas prices or the overall state of the economy. This year at least, he can’t control the dates the PGA gave the Piedmont Triad’s tour event and can’t control the various pros’ decisions whether or not to play it, Yet, even those things which would seem to fall into the category of “things I cannot change” are not beyond the realm of possibility in the future. And that’s where the “wisdom to know the difference” comes into play.

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Mark Brazil

Make no mistake, Brazil is not content with the mid-August date for the second annual Wyndham, sandwiched as it is between the PGA and the FedEx Cup in the dog days of the sweltering Carolina summer. But that is a department best left to Charitable Foundation head Bobby Long, who is a combination lobbyist and goodwill ambassador for the tournament. During Media Day last month, Long commented, “A big part of my focus in the coming year is going to be convincing the PGA that we need a better date. That’s a top priority for the future success of the tournament.”

But as Brazil and Long and everyone else connected with the tournament know, this first year at their new venue is critical. They realize that the various facets of the event have to coalesce into a cohesive whole, that each element has to run seamlessly, that each component must perform flawlessly. And fortunately, those are the departments that fall in the “change the things I can” category — and Brazil, the Charitable Foundation Board, the host venue at Sedgefield Country Club, and the title sponsor of Wyndham Worldwide Corp. have all demonstrated “the courage” required to ensure that the tournament is a rousing success.

“There is definitely a lot of added pressure,” admitted Brazil, now in his eighth year at the helm of the event, “but I think Sedgefield itself has more or less taken care of that for me. I’m not trying to minimize it, but all we’ve done with this tournament is move it from one place to another. This is such an attractive venue, and the course is as good as any on the PGA Tour, that a lot of that pressure is handled by the ambiance and the quality of the club.”

Brazil then went onto say that the quality of the field (which has filled out even more impressively since then) helps mitigate the pressure.

“Sure, it’s also nice to say that Vijay Singh is coming, and Rocco Mediate and Davis Love III,” he added. “And that David Toms wanted to play simply because he loved the course so much. I think you’re going to see a better field each succeeding year because they’re going go back and say ,’Oh my God, you won’t believe how good this place is.’”

It was Toms, who has 15 PGA Tour wins and over $29 million in career earnings, who convinced Brazil and Long that moving the tournament to Sedgefield was a good idea, months before the deal was consummated.

“Bobby and I played a round with him last November,” disclosed Brazil, “and two things he said convinced us we were on the right path. He said, ‘We only get to play courses like this during majors.’ And then after the round was looking out over the course and the clubhouse and said, ‘You couldn’t build this place. You guys have got to move the tournament here.’ A statement like that from somebody like him has got to open your eyes.”

Brazil also revealed that the Kris Spence redesign of the Donald Ross course played a significant role in their decision to move but that they had nothing to do with it.

“It was a pure luck deal,” he stated firmly. “Sedgefield Country Club had decided to spruce up and update the course in an effort to attract new members. They were truly not trying to get a PGA event. Kris lengthened the course and put some bunkers in different spots and tweaked it not because he knew we were coming but with the idea that possibly we could come. But I can tell you that had the redesign not been done, we would not be here today.”

Yet, there was another factor besides the beauty, lore and uniqueness of the course that drove Wyndham officials’ decision to break the contract with Forest Oaks and relocate the event: its location.

“When the Charitable Foundation Board took over running the tournament, regionalism became the guiding force,” confirmed Brazil. “The concept of regionalism is what drives this golf tournament, and Sedgefield’s central location in the region and easy access from all the highways made it an attractive venue. Forest Oaks was obviously a very good partner for 31 years, but it’s down in the southeast corner of the region, kind of off the beaten path, and the board sees Sedgefield as a great tool for promoting regionalism. The golf tournament and the region are on rather parallel paths in that both are competing nationally. If you look at the region as a whole it’s one of the top 40 Metropolitan Statistical Areas, but as individual cities it doesn’t even register. Bobby [Long] understands the significance of all this and knows the importance of drawing support for the tourney from all over central North Carolina. In that regard, Sedgefield again made perfect sense.”

So, even before the first drive off the first tee of the 2008 Wyndham is made, Brazil is convinced beyond all doubt that the foundation board made the right decision. Further, he is assured that every contingency has been accounted for, every detail taken care of, every T crossed, every I dotted. One by one he went down the mental punch list, checking off each item or potential problem.

One potential nightmare was averted by limiting on-course parking and finding a suitable lot nearby. Grandover will handle the hospitality and the soon-to-be-sold Lincoln Financial property across High Point Road from the entrance to Sedgefield will handle media and volunteer parking, but neither was suitable for fan parking.

“It so happened that Koury Corp. owns a huge tract of vacant land at the intersection of Guilford College-Jamestown Road and High Point Road,” said Brazil. “That will accommodate all the public parking and is only a short hop for the round-trip shuttles. Plus, it’s a straight shot from I-40 and I-85, particularly with the new Urban Loop. It’s easy access from every angle. The busses will drop fans off between the driving range and the first tee and signs will point them in the right direction for everything.”

As for infrastructure, Brazil said that a new scoreboard has been built beside the clubhouse, near the fan entrance to the course, and upgrades to the locker room and family lounge have been made.

“The best thing about Sedgefield is that we didn’t have to do much in the way of improvements at all,” smiled the tourney director. “Other than erecting the bleachers and the state-of-the-art skyboxes and planting flowers — stuff you would do anyway — the place is in gorgeous shape already. Our merchandise tent is actually the pro shop, so that worked out well, too.”

In the week leading up to the event, a key announcement was made that Arnold Palmer and Richard Petty would be honored at Wednesday’s Opening Ceremonies, both celebrating 50 years in their respective sports fields. Also, Kyle and Pattie Petty will be on hand to accept a special presentation from Wyndham. Their Victory Junction Gang is the official charity of the tournament.

Moreover, several additional top-tier players announced commitments to the Wyndham — including Zack Johnson, Paul Casey and Angel Cabrera — which no doubt brought a smile to Brazil’s face.

“There is more excitement surrounding this year’s tournament than any of the seven since I’ve been here,” he grinned. “Our sponsorships and skyboxes and corporate support has by far exceeded anything in the past. I can’t predict how the galleries will turn out in this bad economy, but I do know the buzz is out there. I guarantee you, though, we’re going to put on a heck of a show.”

Tickets to this week’s Wyndham Championship are available online at www.wyndhamchampionship.com or through the tournament office at 336.379.1570.

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