The carts were lined up and ready for battle, pointed toward the course that Arnie built. The occasion was the annual media day at the Arnold Palmer-designed Jeremy Ranch Golf Course, site of Utah's annual PGA Senior Tour event. Of course, the response from the media was overwhelming. You can pique the interest of sportswriters and sportscasters by offering a free lunch, but throw in 18 holes of golf and you've got them for the day.
So the enthusiastic turnout wasn't the unusual part of the annual media day. The unusual part was that it was being held, period. Or at least that it was being held on this side of the California state line.There was a time last fall when the Jeremy Ranch event, after six rather tumultous years of existence, was taken off the calendar by the PGA. A group in Lake Tahoe was given Utah's spot. The PGA was not impressed by the Jeremy organizers' rather loose system of paying bills and had crossed the tournament off its list.
But as had been shown before, the Jeremy tournament - first the Shootout, then the Showdown - is as tenacious as the man who built the golf course it's played on. Maybe it did have a history of bouncing checks and paying bills past 90 days - and of flying first class even if it couldn't afford it - but it was absent malice and always had a healthy wait-until-next-year attitude . . . and the last thing it wanted was to go out of business.
Faced with extinction, the Showdown organizers turned to Utah's political leaders in Washington last fall, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, in particular, lent a sympathetic ear. He called Deane Beman, the commissioner of the PGA, in Florida and reminded him that if the Showdown left Utah then the Intermountain West would be devoid of any contact with the PGA Tour, senior, regular or women's, and he didn't think that was fair.
No one in professional sports likes to turn aside a U.S. senator, particularly one who ranks high on the judiciary committee - the committee that looks this way or that way when it comes to the two words pro sports people fear the most in life: antitrust laws.
Beman listened politely to Hatch, and agreed to at least come to Washington, D.C. - and meet with the Showdown's officials. They met in the Senate dining room one morning not long thereafter, and to make a long breakfast short . . . the tournament was saved.
The PGA agreed to continue to work with the Showdown staff and hold the tournament in Utah on one condition - that they deliver a $300,000 letter of credit immediately. The Showdown did just that, through Continental Bank.
Life has been relatively rosey ever since.
As soon as it was back in business the Showdown got to work on attracting new sponsors and on pouring new blood into the organization. Or in one case, old blood. Lanny Nielsen, the original dirgctor of the tournament when it began in 1982 as the Shootout, was re-hired and assigned to work in promotions and P.R.
Eight Founder sponsors have been acquired, pledging $450,000 in support. They include American Express, Pepsi Cola, KUTV, Larry H. Miller Toyota, U.S. WestMountain Bell, KISN Radio, the Park City Olympic Hotel and Maxwell House Coffee of General Foods.
In addition to the above, Ryder Trucks, already the sponsor of the PGA Regular Tour's Doral Open, joined as a Founder sponsor, pledging another $50,000. Anthony Burns, the chairman of Ryder and a BYU graduate, joined the Showdown effort after contact with Sen. Hatch's office.
All of the above was less-than-subtly included in the information portion of this week's media day.
If you've done it, brag about it.
It was also mentioned that all of the places in the pro-am portion of the tournament have been sold, as have many of the 18th hole VIP tables, and that defending champion Miller Barber has already committed to play in the July 13-17 event, along with many other well-known Senior Tour players such as Gay Brewer, Bob Goalby, Bobby Nichols, Harold Henning, Orville Moody, Charles Coody and Bruce Crampton.
Crampton has been appointed honorary chairman of the '88 tournament, along with Senator Hatch.
"Financially, this should be our best tournament ever," said Jim Bailey of the Showdown staff.
Not that that's anything to boast about. The first six years haven't exactly been money in the bank. Still, you have to admire the Jeremy Showdown, alive and kicking after all these years, and holding media days right on schedule.