Kerry Eggers on Sports: Promoter Jeff Sanders and crew hope to use proven formula again

PMG FILE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Sungjae Im won the WinCo Foods Portland Open in 2018 -- and now is the leader in the PGA Tour's FedExCup standings.

Jeff Sanders is normally as easy to slow down as a panther in frantic pursuit of an antelope.

The coronavirus, however, packs a whale of a punch, though the Portland-based golf promoter has sidestepped the pandemic as best he can.

"We're business as usual," said Sanders, executive vice president/golf events for Lagardere Sports, which stage the WinCo Foods Portland Open that is scheduled for Aug. 6-9 at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club. "We're trying to plan for the best but also gearing for the worst if we get in that situation."

The WinCo Foods Portland Open remains on the Korn Ferry Tour schedule, as do all tournaments slated for from mid-May on. That can — and likely will — change as health experts gauge the lasting effects of the coronavirus.

All Korn Ferry events through mid-May already have been postponed or canceled. Same for those on the PGA Tour.

"There is talk of moving the PGA Championship (scheduled for May 14-17) to the slot where golf in the Olympics was scheduled (early August)," Sanders said. "The Masters wants to move to the fall. (Tour officials) want to keep the Ryder Cup where it is if they can (Sept. 25-27).

"Nobody wants to cancel, but it's very challenging to find a date for these tournaments that want to go to the fall."

When Sanders says Lagardere Sports is operating "business as usual," he's fudging the truth.

Its offices in Beaverton and La Quinta, California, are closed due to the coronavirus.

"Everyone is working remotely," said Sanders, 64, who owns a home in La Quinta about two miles from PGA West Golf Course, home of the American Express PGA Tour event that Lagardere operates.

The La Quinta residence has served as Sanders' office for the past two weeks.

"I'm using it as my headquarters for the time being," he said. "I've been doing some work on the American Express event. Meanwhile, I'm riding my bike early every morning and doing some long walks with my wife (Victoria). We've been taking advantage of the good weather here and trying to make this difficult situation as positive as we can."

JEFF SANDERSSanders is a handshake/eye contact guy, but that's not been possible doing business as late.

"A lot of it is being done over the phone or on Zoom or Skype," he said. "I've always believed in going to see the customer over the years. If you can't afford the plane ticket, you shouldn't be in the business.

"But in this new world, it has become acceptable short term to communicate in other ways. We're able to do everything we need to do. We're not held up at all. Just like everyone else, though, we're waiting to see what's going to happen."

The WinCo Foods Portland Open, in its seventh year, is the final regular-season event on the Korn Ferry Tour, a secondary circuit to the PGA Tour. Sanders ceremoniously presents PGA Tour cards to the first 25 season money finishers on the Korn Ferry Tour after Sunday's final round in North Plains. He'd like to think he'll get to do that again in early August at Pumpkin Ridge.

"I'm optimistic that we're going to play," he said. "We're still more than four months away — it's a little early to tell. We have some time here to see what happens. Our people are planning and preparing to have the tournament, to have a great event again and to give out those 25 cards. For now, it's all systems go."

Sanders, a former Sunset High and Oregon golf standout who played five years on the PGA Tour, has been in the golf promotions business since 1987. "Jeff Sanders Promotions" was purchased in 2013 by Lagardere, which has a national office in New York City and international headquarters in Paris.

Sanders and his staging team of 26 employees produce four events annually, plus a charity tourney in Indian Wells, California. Lagardere runs two PGA Tour events — the Safeway Open in Napa, Calif., in

September, and the American Express in La Quinta in January. The Napa event is now in the crosshairs of the coranavirus effect, just like the WinCo Foods Portland Open.

"We're planning and preparing like we always do to have (the Safeway Open)," Sanders said.

The tournament could be canceled or postponed. Another possibility: a made-for-TV event without spectators or hospitality tents.

"That would be very odd," Sanders said. "I hope it doesn't come to that."

Lagardere operates two Korn Ferry events — the Albertsons Boise Open follows the WinCo Foods event and is staged from Aug. 13-16. The latter is in its 31st year, making it the longest-running event on the Korn Ferry Tour. Sanders has been in charge the whole way.

The WinCo Foods Portland Open raises $1.4 million for charity in 2019 and figures to hit the $8 million mark through seven years if this year's tourney goes off as scheduled.

COURTESY PHOTO: LAGARDERE SPORTS - The 18th hole is a scenic and popular place at the Safeway Open in Napa Valley, California.Sanders came upon a formula for success in running his tournament in Napa.

"We created a model there five years ago," the golf impresario said. "We needed to come up with an out-of-the-box idea to drive energy and enthusiasm behind our events."

Lagardere's executive group decided to combine food, wine, music and golf — "four things authentic in Napa," Sanders said -- to make the event a golf/music/entertainment festival.

"We have six nights of music after the golf during the week," said Sanders.

Among the acts Sanders has enlisted through the years: Jimmy Buffett, John Legend, Blake Shelton, Dave Matthews, Billy Idol, Sammy Hagar, Rob Thomas, the Goo Goo Dolls, REO Speedwagon, Styx, Chicago and Smokey Robinson.

"And we're very affordable — $35 for a ticket that covers golf and the music," Sanders said. "It's major league golf and it's major league music.

"We sold six times more tickets than the previous tournament that was played there. Who doesn't love great wine, food, music and golf? This model works."

Sanders has used it at the American Express, where past acts included Huey Lewis and Bad Company. This year, separate post-golf concerts by Stevie Nicks and Luke Bryan brought in 48,000 combined spectators on the PGA West driving range.

A concert one night after golf at this year's WinCo Foods Portland Open is in the offing, too, though Sanders hasn't yet booked an act. He'll have a private show, too, at the pro-am dinner for the sponsors and charities. Tower of Power is slated for that.

The WinCo Foods Portland Open has gradually built momentum through its first six years. Sanders doesn't want the show to go dark for a year. Regardless, he likes the way Lagardere's employees are keeping the nose to the grindstone.

"I'm really proud of our team," he said. "We have our conference calls every other day. Everybody's moving the ball down the field. Our people are true professionals.

"There are so many distractions and so much going on on the world right now, but we're continuing to balance being careful and safe with continuing to work on the tournament."

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