Questions over sponsor, event timing loom for TOC
HONOLULU - When Steve Stricker finished mopping up his 12th victory on the PGA Tour at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions on Jan. 9 in Maui, the focus shifted from the competition inside the ropes to the future of the event itself.
In its 14th year in Hawaii, the tournament has had its ups and downs. Recently, the struggling economy and non-participation by Tour headliners such as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy have compounded the challenges at the season-opening, winners-only event.
This year, the Tournament of Champions at the scenic Kapalua Resort attracted only 27 players in a field that could have numbered 39.
Days later, reports surfaced that Hyundai was going to sign a deal approaching $100 million with the PGA Tour. Hyundai's commitment would include a six-year extension as title sponsor at Kapalua, an umbrella sponsorship of the developmental Nationwide Tour, serving as official car of the PGA Tour and a sponsor of the 2015 Presidents Cup in South Korea.
Ty Votaw, the PGA Tour's executive vice president of communications and international affairs, confirmed that discussions were ongoing between the PGA Tour and FedEx for continual sponsorship of the season-ending playoff series known as the FedEx Cup, which likely will be signed in the next 10 days. However, Votaw would not comment on any discussions with Hyundai.
“I will say that we had a brief discussion with the PGA Tour about this idea of the Nationwide Tour and of the official car," said Steve Shannon, vice president of marketing for Hyundai Motor America. “It's a very good opportunity for somebody. It's a really nice asset. The question of course for us is, 'Is it right for Hyundai?' and we're going to think about it. Certainly that decision is closely related to what we decide to do about the future of the Tournament of Champions, which we in all honesty, with all of the work we had to do to pull off the event a week ago, we really haven't spent a whole lot of time thinking about after next year.”
Shannon said it was likely that Hyundai would make a decision by late April or early May about tournament sponsorship.
Next year's Hyundai Tournament of Champions, the last under the current contract with the PGA Tour, already has its own unique set of challenges.
The event likely will be played the week of Dec. 31-Jan. 7, a prime vacation season for the resort and the Ritz-Carlton that houses the players and the Hyundai customers that week.
Then the players will have to make the commitment to travel before or just after New Year's for what could be a Thursday, Jan. 3 or Friday, Jan. 4 start.
Considering the lack of participation this year, an even earlier start could be problematic for the field.
“That's something that we need to talk to them (PGA Tour) about, but no doubt that adds some challenges to it,” Shannon said of the early January dates for the event. “This time of year with us and the automobile business, with the combination of the Tournament of Champions, the Detroit Auto Show and the Consumer Electronics Show, I would love to get everybody to move for our convenience, but that obviously can't happen.”
Professional golf doesn’t survive in a vacuum, so when the possibility is discussed of moving the Sony Open to the first week of the season for 2013 and then Hyundai the second week, issues such as the Consumer Electronics Show and the Detroit Auto Show creep in, making any date change for the two Hawaii events tricky.
Though the dates for the 2013 Tournament of Champions are a short-term problem, the field size looms larger. If PGA Tour winners continue to shun the first event of the season, the all-star concept is threatened.
Shannon and Hyundai have reaffirmed their commitment to the event as being what they want long term. The Korean company likes the fact that young newcomers are making a statement at their event, because the company sees its young history in lock step with twentysomething Tour stars such as Webb Simpson, Jhonattan Vegas, Brendan Steele and Keegan Bradley.
“I think that we would,” Shannon said of the possibility of expanding the field. “We certainly wouldn't want to lose this special emphasis about winners. That's exclusive. This is the one tournament these guys all won at least one PGA Tour event. But if the PGA Tour has some thoughts about adding to the field through additional criteria, we would certainly be willing to consider it with them.”