Finally, there’s renewed hope for the Hope, but with a catch.
Beginning next year, Humana will be the title sponsor of the PGA Tour’s Bob Hope Classic, according to two sources with knowledge of the negotiations. The announcement reportedly was imminent.
Humana already has Tour ties. The Louisville, Ky.-based company, a member of the Fortune 100, has been the health-benefits provider to Tour employees since 2005. Now Humana will jump into sponsorship with a seven-year commitment and a possible move to network television.
The 2012 Hope’s format will change from five rounds to four, and the La Quinta, Calif.-area courses used will be trimmed from four to three, though they were not identified.
But with La Quinta Country Club facing financial problems and PGA West in Chapter 11 reorganization, the only course in the rotation that might be available is Silver Rock, which is the only property with parking.
Other changes include the downsizing of the amateur field from 384 to 144, with the pro-am fee to change from $12,500 to between $20,000 to $25,000 per player.
Another significant change: pro-am teams will be one amateur and one professional, with the pro changing each of the three days.
The Hope, which this year kicked off the continental West Coast Swing, has been without a title sponsor for the past three years. Chrysler, the Hope’s title sponsor from 1986 through 2008, pulled out because of the downturn in the U.S. auto industry.
The Hope since has struggled to gain any inroads with a title sponsor. A rumored deal was on the table with McGladrey, the tax-consulting company, for 2010 and ‘11 sponsorship, but it fell through. McGladrey eventually landed the inaugural Fall Series event at Sea Island, Ga., last year.
The Hope has been able to stay viable because its 384-player pro-am generates about $5 million annually, allowing a small amount of money to the charitable endeavors in the desert.
When the Hope had a title sponsor, it received $3.3 million from Chrysler in its final year and was financially stable. During the past three years, the Hope tried to cobble together a patchwork group of non-title sponsors to bridge the $1.9 million that tournament organizers need to contribute to the purse and the $1 million that covers the TV obligation.
If the Hope were to be on network TV, the cost to Humana would increase, as would its national audience.
John Foster, chairman and president of the Hope, told Golfweek in January that network TV was imperative and the patchwork-sponsorship model was not viable long-term.
The final piece to the puzzle involves the charity involved in the event.
In January, the Tour released a statement indicating its desire to partner with the Clinton Foundation as charitable participant at the Hope. The new sponsorship with Humana also will include the 42nd president’s foundation to be part of the Hope’s charitable recipients. However, long-term beneficiaries such as Eisenhower Hospital and local desert charities still would be involved in the Hope’s charitable efforts.