Maginnes on Tap: Clinton Foundation brings new hope
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
It’s impossible to think of the Humana Challenge as just another PGA Tour event. This week marks the end of a major transition for an event that has been in an interesting flux since its patriarch, Bob Hope, passed away in 2003. Mr. Hope gave the tournament a much needed identity. And a year ago there was some question about whether or not 2011 would be the final installment of the Bob Hope Desert Classic.
Over the last decade the tournament sought a new face for the event, although the George Lopez experiment didn’t work. Arnold Palmer lent his name for the 50th anniversary a couple of years ago, but that didn’t have the desired impact, either. After last year it seemed the tournament had reached the end of its impressive reign. The event was searching for a title sponsor, a format to attract better players and a concept that would set it apart from other PGA Tour events.
In came the Clinton Foundation, headed by former President of the United States Bill Clinton, along with Humana, a team that set out to revolutionize the way that a PGA Tour event is viewed and re-inforce the message that it conveys. Using the once-great Bob Hope Classic as its platform, the Clinton Foundation and Humana are conducting a wellness summit this week that includes health and wellness experts from all over the world. This twist on a traditional PGA Tour event is a new wrinkle that could provide a template for tournaments in the future.
However, simply changing the signage and trying to get the word out wasn’t going to be enough if the tournament didn’t attract at least some of the game’s top players. In order to do that, a format change was instituted – moving from a five-day, 90-hole marathon to a 72-hole event with three days of pro-am play. For decades the pros have teed it up with three different amateurs for each of the first four days. Rounds took upwards of six hours on golf courses spread all over the valley. Starting this week the Pebble Beach model – one pro, one amateur – has been instituted the first three days. The tournament was dialed back to four days; and already the pros seem to be responding.
Phil Mickelson, a two-time winner at the Hope, returns for the first time since 2007. Dustin Johnson is back after missing each of the last two years. Those players headline an improved field that would likely be far less impressive without some important changes to the format. In addition to reducing the tournament to 72 holes, the Humana Challenge will be played on two of the courses at PGA West (Palmer Private and Nicklaus Resort) as well as the very popular La Quinta Country Club.
For the first time in years there is a level of excitement about the venerable old Palm Springs event as the tournament approaches. The heyday of Mr. Hope’s event has long passed when A-list celebrities stood in line for an opportunity to socialize and play golf with the greatest players of their day. But what has emerged is an event that could change the way that other events conduct business.
The title sponsor, Humana is bringing its business to the platform of professional golf. Along the way it has managed to gain the attention of a few top players whose schedules are jammed tighter than ever. From a business standpoint, this could be a very important week on the PGA Tour.