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Occupy PGA to protest Senior PGA, demands compensation

May 18, 2012

A group of citizens from Benton Harbor, Mich., that calls itself Occupy the PGA plans to protest at the Senior PGA Championship at the Golf Club at Harbor Shores next week and has sent a letter to the PGA of America demanding 25 percent of the tournament profits as "partial compensation for stolen land and water" and to help close budget deficits in the city.

The protest organizer, Rev. Edward Pinkney, said that his group does not plan to interrupt play. "We don't want to cause a tremendous disturbance," he said Friday, "we just want to make them sit down with us."

Pinkney said he expects only 300 to 400 protesters to show up on Wednesday, but on Saturday, "we're expecting thousands and thousands of people to show. The main thing we want to accomplish is that we want them to come to the table and sit down with us -- the PGA, along with Harbor Shores, Whirlpool and KitchenAid."

KitchenAid, which has headquarters in Benton Harbor, is the presenting sponsor. Whirlpool is KitchenAid's parent company.

"Benton Harbor is $5 million in the red," Pinkney said. "Our goal is that we can knock off some of that $5 million if they decide to come and help the city."

The letter Pinkney sent to the PGA of America last week was in care of David Charles, senior director of championships for the organization. It demanded "cancellation of the tournament in Benton Harbor. Failing that, we hereby make the following demands on the 2012 Senior PGA:

-- "Transfer 25% of the 2012 Senior PGA profits to the citizens of Benton Harbor as partial rightful compensation for stolen land and water and for the purpose of meeting budget deficits and building affordable housing for the people of Benton Harbor.

-- "We call on each of [the players competing in the tournament] to hear the grievances of the people of Benton Harbor and either withdraw from the tournament or show their support for the demonstration planned for May 23-27, Occupy the PGA.

-- "Acknowledge in an announcement at the Senior PGA event that the people of Benton Harbor have been exploited in numerous ways...including the theft of public park land for private profit and the complete undermining of democratic structures by the installation of an Emergency Financial Manager [in Benton Harbor]."

Julius Mason, senior director communications for the PGA of America, provided this statement regarding the planned protest:

"The PGA of America is excited about it collaboration with a broad section of Benton Harbor in bringing the 73rd Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid to this community, and its positive impact on its citizens. The residents of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph have welcomed the Senior PGA Championship as an opportunity to showcase the area's vibrant history, culture and economic transformation on a national stage."

As for security, "The safety and security of our players and spectators is our No. 1 priority at each of our events. The 73rd Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid is no exception."

Professional golf tournaments tend to provide economic boosts to communities and help fund charities in them, as Mason noted in an email exhange.

"Golf is a big job provider in the State of Michigan where more than 50,000 people make golf their career," he wrote. "So too does the Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid which created more than 250 temporary jobs for people in this community. We're pleased with our work with the Consortium for Community Development to identify and train qualified individuals for positions requiring certain skills. We hope to see this lead to some of these individuals securing future full-time positions in a related field following the Championship.

"Golf and charity are intertwined at every level and our PGA Foundation, in conjunction with [the] Championship, will deliver hundreds of thousands of dollars of support for local charities including the Boys and Girls Club of Benton Harbor. The PGA of America will also collaborate with The First Tee of Benton Harbor on-site during the Championship.

"Golf is very proud of its positive environmental impact as well managed open green space that provides jobs, tourism, tax revenue, recreational benefits and uses national resources efficiently. The 530-acre Harbor Shores development, a former brownfield and Super Fund site, is a prime example of how golf can improve a community's land assets."

Pinkney said the Occupy the PGA movement already has proven successful. "They've been giving away tickets," he said, claiming responsibility. "Regardless what happens, we've already basically won this battle. Now they have to realize how serious we are and we're also going to be planning for 2014."

The Senior PGA Championship is scheduled to return to the Golf Club at Harbor Shores in 2014. The course was designed by Jack Nicklaus and was partially built on a portion of Jean Klock Park that the city sold to the Harbor Shores developers. Three of the holes are on park land that Harbor Shores leases from the city.

UPDATE: Jeff Noel, corporate vice president communications and public affairs for Whirlpool and the president of Harbor Shores Community Redevelopment, said in an email that Pinkney has never requested a meeting. "I am always happy to meet with any local community leader...Unfortunately, despite our seeing each other occasionally in the community, Reverend Pinckney has never requested a meeting with me or our organizations," Noel wrote. "If he did, I would welcome the chance to discuss the benefits of the Sr. PGA Tournament as well as ways in which the Harbor Shores development and the not for profit organizations associated with the project have helped raise over $7.5 million to build 3 new facilities for the Benton Harbor Boys and Girls Clubs and First Tee and have provided the private matching funds to help build and or renovate over 600 affordable homes in the community."

Noel also noted that two Harbor Habitat for Humanity homes "are currently under construction near the golf course thanks to volunteers, funding and land donated by Whirlpool Corporation and Harbor Shores."

-- John Strege