Davis Love III has never been one to mince words when it comes to discussing the tour’s tournament sponsorship situation. As I mentioned almost three-and-a-half weeks ago on FTR, Verizon decided to crease their current agreement with Harbour Town and the iconic event at the end of this week, thereby putting another tournament on the will-you-please-sponsor-me market.
Love spoke prior to the tournament on Wednesday about the club’s confidence in trying to find a new sponsor in a very cutthroat environment.
“I think they’re confident that — they’re like me, as a player, you just think, well, why wouldn’t somebody pick this tournament up?” Love said. “And there’s not — it’s not like that we want to go somewhere else because we’ve got a better option, you know? There’s nothing really — there’s not a bunch of people standing in line saying, we need a tournament in Atlanta or Orlando, Chicago. We don’t need the date. We need this golf course and this date to stay the way it is.”
But will someone pick up where Verizon left off? That remains to be seen. Like a lot of current sponsors out there, trying to justify the money that’s involved in hosting a tournament–as opposed to using that money for day-to-day operations at your business–is damn near impossible in this current economic climate.
Just look at what happened to Northern Trust after word got out over their pre-tournament party they hosted last year. They got skewered by the public (and some media outlets). It’s incidents like these that have made it hard for sponsors to jump back in the water.
So when Verizon decided to jump ship on a tournament that’s one of the longest running on tour (the event first began back in 1969), it once again left the tournament committee, as well as the PGA Tour, in a difficult situation.
The question now being posed by the tour is: how do you keep a sponsor while, at the same time, making it possible for them to look good hosting a golf tournament with “extra” funds that could well be going into the business itself?
Like the Farmer Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, Harbour Town Golf Links is a staple on the PGA Tour. And like Torrey Pines, Harbour Town finds itself on the ropes, hoping a sponsor comes along. I mention the San Diego-based tournament because they were in the exact same spot last season; a quality track looking for a sponsor up until the 24th hour.
However, unlike the California-based event, Harbour Town has a golden parachute in the form of an agreement by South Carolina legislature to grant the tournament a $10 million dollar loan, in the event the tournament can’t secure a sponsor by next year.
But getting back to Love, you can tell he’s extremely frustrated with the way things are progressing. He sees a tournament, one he’s grown up with, potentially disappearing into oblivion in the coming years. While we know that tournaments come and go, this would appear to be one that’s worth fighting for.
“…it’s a great golf course. Not a whole lot of tournaments have had their whole history on one golf course, a great golf course like this. And this is one when people say what are your favorite courses on the PGA TOUR, they always list Pebble Beach and they list Harbour Town and they list Colonial, they list classic golf courses. It’s an important tournament for the history of the Tour, it’s important for the players and then the wives and the kids they want to come here, too.
“It’s tough in this economy, you know, with unfortunately the politicians not really helping us out, saying, “We don’t need to be that involved in corporate entertainment.” When this is not corporate entertainment, this is for charity. This foundation has done so much for charity around here.”
And that could be Harbour Town’s saving grace. The charity work (which is well documented), as well as an ability to create jobs for the state, are precisely the reasons why this tournament could be a blueprint for potential sponsors.
Assuming you can find a way market your tournament for its charity involvement (see: Byron Nelson Classic), as well as the tournament’s ability to create jobs for those few weeks before, during and after the event, maybe, just maybe, sponsors would consider the idea of sponsoring tournaments again.
You can only hope that’s the case for Harbour Town Golf Links, a course and community that definitely deserves more than a pat on the back and a spot in the “past tournaments” category in tour record books.