Death of a golf tournamentWritten by Fred Altvater | | BackNine@toledofreepress.com
I first began watching televised golf coverage in the 60’s. Back then Hollywood celebrities lent their highly recognizable names to tournaments such as: The Bing Crosby Clambake from Pebble Beach, The Hartford Open with Sammy Davis Jr., The Andy Williams San Diego Open from Torrey Pines, and of course The Bob Hope Desert Classic from Palm Springs. The celebs would get their high profile buddies to come out and play in the pro-am portion of the event to add revenue dollars and assure a profitable tournament. The PGA needed the celebs back then to garner public attention on the game and to help boost attendance. Today the PGA Tour is very successful on its own, thank-you very much, and develops its own celebrities, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jack Nicklaus, etal. With the explosion of golf TV coverage, as well as, the aging and eventual death of the celebs, corporate sponsors replaced the celebrity names. The Crosby became the AT&T from Pebble Beach, and The Andy Williams San Diego Open became The Buick Invitational. One tournament that has remained true to tradition over the years, The Bob Hope Desert Classic, looks like it is gasping for its last breath and is very close to pulling the plug on its life support system. It does not have corporate sponsorship for 2010 or beyond and the PGA Tour is not supporting it with its best players.
The Hope is a departure from the normal tour stop. It’s played in the Palm Springs Desert, which is more like an oasis for rich and famous television and movie stars from LA. Celebrating its 50th year, it began in 1960 with Arnold Palmer as the inaugural winner and through the years has hosted top-notch players and A-list celebrities. Even Five Star General & President “Ike” played here. The top pros do not patronize the Hope these days. Even though it still has a $5 million dollar purse and is played on great courses, the highest ranked player at this year’s event was Mike Weir at #37 in the world.
The problems are numerous. First of all, it is played after a couple of glorious weeks in Hawaii. The pros have to fly all that way over the Pacific in their plush Gulfstreams to California. Second, contrary to most events it begins on Wednesday and is a five day, 90 hole tournament, which is an extra working day for the golfers. Third and probably most important, it is a four-day pro-am. It is a burden of immense proportion for big name professional golfers to play with celebrity hackers, with huge egos, and no golf game. Fourth it is played on the same week as the Big Money, High Appearance Fee, European Tour’s Abu Dhabi Golf Championship. Four strikes and you’re out!
Can you imagine Tiger or Phil passing up a $2 million appearance fee to play four rounds with Joe Schmoe, retired athlete or Jaimie Glitz, TV star?
All PGA Tour players have an obligation to play a minimum of 15 events annually. If a tour player wishes to play an event on another tour when there is a PGA Tour event scheduled he has to get a hall pass from the PGA Tour Commissioner’s office. In a normal week the Tour approves 2 or 3 such passes to assure a quality field for its event. The PGA Tour office approved 11 free passes to U. S. Tour players to play in Abu Dhabi. Some of these players were highly ranked local Palm Springs residents that would have definitely improved attendance and TV ratings, all the better to attract a deep pocket corporate sponsor.
I know I am a lot older than the viewing public, even rookie golf phenom, Ricky Fowler, had to ask who his celebrity playing partner, Bo Jackson was. One of the things I most like about golf is the tradition. It seems like losing tournaments like the Crosby Clambake and The Hope take something away from the game. These were building blocks that the PGA Tour and professional golf were built on. It is somewhat like watching the family dog become old and feeble and require being put to sleep for its own good. You know it has to be done but its still very painful to watch.
On a lighter note, I’m looking for some sunshine and warmer weather, so I can catch you on the “Back 9.”
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