Pulling the Pursestrings
Which brings us to, HOW?
“It begins with the sponsor,’’ said the PGA’s Votaw. “A lot of courses can raise their hands and express interest in holding an event, but can’t unless there’s sponsorship.’’
Seattle has some big-timers on the world corporate stage: Microsoft, Amazon, Paccar, Starbucks, Nordstrom, Costco, Weyerhaeuser, Nintendo and Tully’s. But none has had a long history of sports sponsorships.
Portland also has some major companies: Nike, adidas, Willamette Industries, Louisiana-Pacific, U.S. Bank, Umpqua Holdings, Columbia Sportswear and Freightliner Trucks. Nike and adidas are an integral part of the golf business, but none have stepped into the title sponsor role.
It took a perfect storm to help the Boeing Classic get off the ground. The course at TPC Snoqualmie Ridge, finished in 1999, is part of a network of TPC courses around the country linked with the PGA. Part of their partnership is the option to host a professional event at some point, if the members are so motivated.
“Ownership reached out in 2004 to let the PGA know that they were ready for a tournament to come here,’’ said Michelle DeLancy, the Boeing Classic’s current executive director, who has been with the event since its inception.
That’s when Seahawks President and CEO Tod Leiweke, who was formerly an executive for the PGA Tour, became involved. He enlisted Virginia Mason as the host and beneficiary of the tournament. His group next approached Alan Mulally, at the time Boeing’s executive VP (and, importantly, an avid golfer) to commit as a title sponsor. Just four months before the inaugural 2005 event, Boeing was on board.
“We literally started from scratch,’’ Nelson said. “We had a year to get ready with virtually no infrastructure. Tod used the barn-raising analogy. We had one paid employee – me. A lot of pieces fell into the right slots. We had 50,000 to 60,000 [fans] for the week. Those were great numbers for the Champions Tour.
“One of my proudest moments was the time Tom Kite was coming over to the 10th tee,’’ Nelson added. “It’s a Saturday and we had great weather, great crowds, the tents are all set up and everything’s well built and he says to (then Champions Tour President) Rick George, ‘Now this is what a golf tournament should look like.’”
Today, the tournament draws more than 80,000 spectators for the week. In seven years, more than $3.7 million has been raised for various charities. More than 1,000 volunteers show up to facilitate the crowd flow. In 2010, the event was given the President’s Award, symbolic of the most well-run tournament on the Champions Tour, and in 2011, the players themselves voted it their favorite event of the year. The Pro-Am sells out early. Skybox space sells out early.
“Boeing, we feel, is the best title sponsor on any tour,’’ DeLancy said. “They take care of their clients. They take care of the players. Over the years, their clients have gotten really involved.’’
So, if the Boeing Classic is so well-sponsored, well-run and well-supported, WHY would anyone mess with success?
It would take about four times the sponsorship money, and an exponential increase in volunteers, infrastructure, parking space and spectators. It would take a title sponsor similar to Boeing that was willing to put up at least $15 million a year, and a number of lesser sponsors to help with the Pro-Am, vendors and transportation.
The course would have to be one that tests today’s technology-enhanced Tour players. Sahalee is tight and tricky, but may not be of sufficient length. Aldarra’s membership has no interest in hosting an event. TPC Snoqualmie Ridge likely wouldn’t want a second tournament. And Chambers Bay’s Allen says, “It’s unlikely we’d be a candidate.’’
And most importantly — would a second-tier PGA Tour event, requiring four times the effort and expenditure, yet likely missing many if not all of the top players in the world, actually be better than the most popular event on the Champions Tour?
“It would take a lot more money (than the Boeing Classic),’’ Nelson said, “and I’m not sure it would be that much better.’’
At least now, with the Boeing, we finally get to see Fred Couples every year.
Bob Sherwin is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Cascade Golfer. A veteran of the Seattle Times, he also freelances for the New York Times and Associated Press, and is the co-founder of Northwest golf website GolfersWest.com.