Humana, Clinton lead Bob Hope comeback

Walkers start Humana Challenge week at the Humana Well-Being Walk along Bear Creek Trail in La Quinta, Calif.

Walkers start Humana Challenge week at the Humana Well-Being Walk along Bear Creek Trail in La Quinta, Calif.

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LA QUINTA, Calif. – Mike McAllister, president and chief executive of health insurance giant Humana, shares the Humana Challenge spotlight with former President Bill Clinton. Thus the name of the PGA Tour event: Humana Challenge in partnership with the Clinton Foundation.

photo

Mike McAllister

When the Humana Challenge is played this week, McAllister and Clinton will preside over a tournament that has staged a remarkable comeback in the past two years.

The former Bob Hope Chrysler Classic was a much beloved event on the PGA Tour. Its roots date to the Palm Springs Golf Classic, started in 1960. When Chrysler dropped out after the 2008 event, the tournament became the Bob Hope Classic.

In recent years, there were many rumors surrounding the fate of the tournament. The most severe was a speculation of death. Or, for lack of a clinical name, death without sponsor.

Along came Clinton, the new ramrod behind the event. And along came Humana, the new title sponsor.

It is easy to be cynical about big businesses that sponsor big golf tournaments. One frequently heard comment goes something like this: “Oh, they just want to entertain and impress their friends and clients.” Or this one: “They just want to create a squeaky-clean image.”

Perhaps all of us should take a closer look at the motivations of these sponsors. Their intentions aren’t always apparent.

In the case of Humana, the company has a message: Better health equals a longer and better life. And a motivation behind that message: To raise awareness among all people of the benefits of health, fitness and well-being.

McAllister is an articulate spokesman for Humana, and he speaks enthusiastically about golf and well-being.

“We didn’t come out of nowhere,” McAllister said. “(PGA Tour commissioner) Tim Finchem and I had a number of conversations (before the Humana sponsorship). We knew that golf is incredibly good at getting people off the couch, and that is a big part of our mission.”

So Humana was looking for a new vehicle to convey its message, and the PGA Tour was looking for sponsors with a clear vision of the future.

Humana has launched a health and well-being initiative, and golf is one means of publicizing the importance of what the company is doing.

“We’re committed to doing it,” McAllister said. “This is a long-term effort, with us and the Clintons and the PGA Tour. There is a greater good here. The initiative is a core part of our company. We want to get people to change their behavior. We want to make healthy things fun.”

Golf fits perfectly into that vision, and Humana signed an eight-year commitment with the Tour, starting in 2012.

Along with Kaboom, a national nonprofit that builds play spaces, Humana last year constructed a permanent playground here in the desert. Two more are being finished this year. Humana’s goal is to build about 50 around the United States.

“We want to make them multi-generational,” McAllister said. “We want kids, parents and grandparents to take advantage of them.”

At the Humana Challenge, Humana will distribute advice and perspective through its Well-Being Van. Humana already is encouraging walking programs and distributing pedometers to make walking a measurable habit.

“We’re talking about achieving lifetime well-being,” McAllister said. “We want to see more people who are healthy, and we want to achieve a healthcare system that is more cost-effective.”

“We want to decrease chronic illnesses. We want to decrease obesity. If all of us don’t do something, we will face an epidemic of obesity. So we see this campaign as being crucial.

“With the PGA Tour, we have found the perfect marriage of a sport and a company that is interested in using a sporting event to drive a much bigger public good.”

Numbers can be misleading, but the Humana Challenge is bolstered by numbers that appear to be very impressive:

• Last year’s tournament drew 81,700 spectators – an increase of 68 percent over 2011 (when the tournament was called the Bob Hope Classic).

• The PGA Tour ranks the quality of the field in all Tour events. On a scale of 1 to 5, the 2012 Humana Challenge had a 3.73 ranking. This was, according to Humana, an 11 percent increase from 2011.

• The 2012 Humana Challenge produced $2.1 million in charitable donations, compared with $1.5 million in 2011.

• Television ratings for 2012 (on Golf Channel) improved by 11 percent over 2011.

• The Sports Business Journal selected the 2012 Humana Challenge as the “Sports Event of the Year.”

Some sports fans might be tempted to give the Humana Challenge the coveted “Best Golf Smoothie of the Year” award, too, but there wasn’t much competition. How many other golf tournaments offer fruit smoothies, anyway?

Humana is serious about health, fitness and golf. President Clinton aside, such a comprehensive effort should be recognized.

Well done, Humana.

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