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About Utah: Old-fashioned values saved the Utah Open

Published: Sunday, Aug. 19 2012 11:22 p.m. MDT

KAYSVILLE — Officially, the 85th edition of the Utah Open, a golf tournament that has been held continuously wince 1926 with the exception of 1964, begins this Friday when a full field of professionals and top amateurs will begin three days of competition at Oakridge County Club.

But in reality the tournament begins today, when the first of seven pro-ams are played at Oakridge. By Thursday evening, upwards of 800 amateurs will have teamed with the professionals in this year's field in the pro-ams sponsored by various Utah businesses.

It's the pro-ams and the sponsors behind the tournament that make the weekend possible.

And by and large it's one 74-year-old man who makes the pro-ams and the sponsors possible.

That man is Scott Bringhurst, and despite the fact he's in his eighth decade, no one calls him old on account of the fact that a) he looks 15 years younger and b) he keeps up a pace that people 50 years younger have a hard time matching.

But they do call him old-fashioned. Because more than anything else, it's Bringhurst's old-fashioned ways that have saved the Utah Open from expiring.

Twelve years ago, the tournament was in dire straits. The 1999 event, sponsored by a brewery with grand plans, was a financial disaster. When no one stepped forward to revive it, the Utah Golf Association asked the Utah Section PGA for help. The PGA turned to the brand new marketing director it had just hired: Bringhurst.

He was 62 years old at the time and recently retired after three decades selling and managing ads for the Yellow Pages (remember them?). Before that, he'd sold cars to make it through college. Basically, he'd been selling all his life.

He took the PGA job largely because he still liked to sell — that and he liked golf.

As a teenager in Salt Lake he'd played on the golf team for the South High Cubs (remember them?) and more or less ever since he'd played recreationally. When he "retired" he also took over as head coach of the East High School golf team (where he's since won three state titles). You might say golf was his retirement package.

Upon inheriting the Utah Open for the year 2000, Bringhurst started called people he'd had relationships with for years. Among the first were attorneys Ned Siegfried and Mitch Jensen, known golf nuts. When the Siegfried and Jensen law firm signed on as a major sponsor, along with American Express, the Open's survival was guaranteed for at least another year.

Ever since, worries about the Open have disappeared, even during the great recession ?— mainly because Bringhurst has never stopped calling people.

"The relationships he has with sponsors and what he offers them, that's what's saved the Utah Open," says Annie Fisher.

Fisher is in a good spot to make that observation. She's the programs director for the Utah Section PGA and was hired by the organization shortly after Bringhurst came on board. Through the past decade she's watched the Open's revival firsthand.

"Scott's made it an event where sponsors feel it's worthwhile to be involved," she says. "There wasn't the interest and he made it interesting."

It's not just the gifts, the golf, the exposure and the chance to help Special Olympics, the tournament's designated charity, either.

"He makes people feel important," Annie says of Scott. "He's still into that one-on-one contact with people. It's not texting, it's not emailing. He calls them on the phone, he shows up at their door. He hand-delivers contracts."

For years, she notes, the Open traditionally had three pro-ams. "Now we have seven and they're full. People are waiting to get in."

Despite, and because, of all the success, Fisher confesses that the staff does enjoy pointing out to Bringhurst his new-age technological shortcomings.

"We all tease him," she says. "We've taught him how to text, but it takes him about 30 minutes to write one text."

Informed of this, Bringhurst replies: "Well, that's her opinion."

Then he's back on his phone, talking in person. He's got a tournament to sell.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Monday and Friday. Email: lbenson@desnews.com

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