Archive for Friday, April 24, 2009

Criticism of spending in golf unfair

April 24, 2009

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In a little more than a week, the PGA Tour with its stars and sunshine will roll into Charlotte for what is now called the Quail Hollow Championship.

The golf course, emerald green, has never been better. The field, if the hints are true, will include Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, an Angel with a new green jacket and just about everyone else who spends their weekend afternoons on television chasing trophies.

There will be thousands of fans spread across Quail Hollow, some watching golf, some visiting with friends, some there to be seen.

And some people will think it’s a bad idea.

Golf — professional golf in particular, and specifically the PGA Tour — has been in the crosshairs this year of some who see what they believe is an elitist sport continuing to live a fat life in a suddenly slimmed down world.

Some corporations have taken cover. Wells Fargo chose to take the Wachovia name off the tournament this year, just days after a public storm erupted over criticism about Northern Trust’s activities around the PGA Tour event it sponsors in Los Angeles.

Wells Fargo has been forthright in saying it will honor its contractual obligation to the tournament, which runs through 2014.

With federal money being invested in saving financial institutions, it makes sense that some budget-tightening go on. A number of activities underwritten by the title sponsor have been cut from the Quail Hollow schedule, including a big open-air party at Philips Place and some private client dinners with PGA Tour players. On-course hospitality will be reduced, a direct result of the economy.

Golf isn’t a villain, though it’s been portrayed that way by some.

“(The PGA Tour) took a way bigger hit than we needed to,” Davis Love III said this week at the Verizon Heritage, where the economic impact is noticeable.

Golf — and the PGA Tour — has begun fighting back. The realities are clear. The tour has several title sponsorships set to expire after 2010, there’s a new television deal that must be negotiated in the near future and there are questions about star power when Tiger Woods isn’t playing.

There is a perception golf is mainly for the rich and idle, but 70 percent of golf rounds are played by average people on daily-fee courses. Country club golf is trending down.

There is nothing wrong with corporate sponsorship of golf tournaments. Marketing is a critical element in corporate success. A recent Golf Digest editorial cited a Sports Business Journal report that quoted Bank of America officials saying for every $1 the bank spent on sponsorships, it returned $10 in revenue and $3 in earnings.

“The more the Tour is successful and these companies that sponsor the Tour are successful, it helps the economy,” Love, a former member of the tour’s policy board, said.

“It doesn’t hurt the economy. It’s not just the company not spending. It goes all the way down through (the) community.”

Find another major sport that has contributed as much to charity as the PGA Tour. You can’t.

The PGA Tour has given more than $1.4 billion to charity through the years, $124 million last year. It has proudly trumpeted those numbers. The tour should scream them now.

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