By Ryan Ballengee
In today's Desert Sun, Larry Bohannan makes his case for why the Bob Hope Classic - going unsponsored for the second consecutive year - is worthy of an $8-10 million investment by a title sponsor. He highlights the tradition, the crowd, the pro-am experience, and other goodies that made the event so great when everyone's favorite USO ambassador was calling the shots.
Now, though, the Hope is in possibly the worst place that a fledgling tournament can be on the PGA Tour schedule. Not only is its date a huge problem, but so is the location. As, too, does the pro-am component pose a huge problem. In other words, everything that once made the Hope great, now weighs it down on the schedule.
The reason why Torrey Pines was able to secure a title sponsor almost a week away from the start of tournament week is because of the field it typically generates. Tiger would be there had he not crashed his car. Phil is usually there. For most of the elite on the PGA Tour, Torrey Pines kicks off the season because it is the first event on the US mainland. Further, it is played on a major championship golf course. And it is in San Diego (German for "whale's vagina"), which rarely has poor weather. And the players have no pro-am obligations during the competition. Basically, everything about the event is attractive to players which results in a solid field every season.
The Hope is not so lucky anymore. The rotation of courses in the desert has been in turmoil for the last several years. Fortunately, the Classic Club is out of the rotation. Most players found the course to be objectionable, particularly since the wind is very strong there during the January time frame. It made the experience tougher for players who want a nice way to ease into the year. It also made rounds even longer over the first four days because of having amateurs in each group. Tour players already take five hours to get around with other pros. Add in some amateurs and more than a fourth of the day could be consumed playing a round of golf.
More than that, the Hope lacks a real voice behind it. It was great that Arnie Palmer stepped in last year to host as a favor to the event. Unfortunately, that came on the heels of the unceremonious booting of George Lopez from that job. Like his late night show or not, but G.Lo would promote the hell out of the Hope were he still the host. Nightly, free press - even if the show is not all that funny? Way better than what they have now. God bless the very quotable Yogi Berra, '10 tournament host, but even his Aflac commercials are not on TV now.
The Hope also is trying to compete with what is arguably the strongest international draw of the European Tour's schedule. Abu Dhabi has its turn this week to compete with Torrey, but is still losing that battle for the attention of global elite, though the tide is turning. The Hope has the misfortune of battling against the Dubai Desert Classic next week. Last season, it faced off against the Qatar Masters and had the biggest negative difference in Official World Golf Ranking points. The Qatar Masters offered 54 first place points to 32 at the Hope. Dubai will be worse.
In other words, why would anyone invest in the Hope?
The PGA Tour would have to destroy the tournament or its own business rules in order to increase its profile. It would have to admit defeat to the European Tour, which it does not do. It would have to prohibit or limit players from using their three exemptions to play on other tours during the PGA Tour year. It would have to change the date of the Hope. They would have to abandon the pro-am format. Or some combination of those three.
Before anyone could make the sale to a potential sponsor, the PGA Tour would have to make a tough sell to the Hope and itself.