Walmart sponsorship may roll back

Sources tell me that Walmart may be rolling back its sponsorship of golf.

The Walmart First Tee Open, the Champions Tour’s Labor Day weekend Pebble Beach pro-am pairing players with First Tee participants, concluded the final year of a four-year deal this month. Prior to the tournament, Peter Jacobsen, a member of the Champions Tour policy board, sent an internal email informing players that the tournament’s future is in jeopardy and encouraging their participation.

“The email I sent out to the players was throwing my support behind a tournament near and dear to my heart,” Jacobsen said.

Sources say that former Walmart CEO H. Lee Scott, who was replaced in Nov. 2008, was a golf aficionado and that new management at Walmart feels tournament sponsorship doesn’t fit with the company’s image. Ritzy Pebble Beach and working-class Walmart don’t exactly go together like peanut butter and jelly, and the Labor Day weekend date is a tough draw for clients (Who can’t clear their calendar for Pebble? C’mon, people!).

The loss of the tournament would be a significant hit to The First Tee in several ways. According to The First Tee’s 2008 annual report, the Monterey Peninsula Foundation, which runs the tournament, is listed as a top donor, giving more than $500,000 last year (Walmart is listed as both a premier partner and corporate donor). The tournament also provides national television exposure for the program, a target for participants to shoot for, and a memory of a lifetime for the junior golfers who get to participate.

Michael McPhillips, the Champions Tour’s director of communications, said renewal discussions began at the tournament two weeks ago and are ongoing. The tour will entertain discussion with other prospects should Walmart opt not to renew.

“I just hope that if they don’t extend that we work very hard to keep that tournament going,” Jacobsen said.

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