News & Opinion

Tour flips umbrella sponsorship inside out

The PGA Tour is very good at a lot of things: generating financial opportunities for its membership, preserving huge chunks of weekend airtime with the major networks, squeezing every last dollar out of those relationships, and lest we forget, overseeing an operation in which the players do a ton of charity work and rarely get into trouble off the course.

That Gary Woodland/Amy Bockerstette video may not convince many kids to play golf, but it certainly adds another coat of varnish to the tour’s image. When it comes to setting a good example in the overprivileged, morally challenged world of professional sports, the folks in Camp Ponte Vedra rank at the top of the class, which is what makes the idea of a Korn Ferry Tour kind of funny (“In the news,” June 20).

Yes, the Korn Ferry Tour. We’re not talking about some heavy-metal band with a couple of cellists hitting the road for 55 concerts over the next three months. Korn Ferry is the latest name to get slapped on what was known last week as the Web.com Tour, which sounded goofy enough, although you have to figure the neckties in north Florida won’t find any humor in jokes about the revolving shingle.

Seriously, in the middle of the season? That ought to cost a few million bucks in overnight signage alone. Can’t these deals go into effect during that bathroom break on the golf calendar in late November? This is the sixth different alias in the 30-year existence of what is, in effect, the PGA Tour’s triple-A affiliate, and I don’t need a calculator to do the math on the turnover rate.

A new umbrella sponsor every five years? Maybe we should’ve just stuck with those old yellow raincoats. Only the bigwigs in the boardroom could tell you how much those umbrellas cost, but they ain’t cheap, because nothing is when you do business with all the commissioner’s men. This has me wondering: Why didn’t Jay Monahan bang his fist on the table at some point during the negotiations and shriek, “The Korn Ferry Tour? Are you kidding me? Who’s next? Toys R Us?”

At any rate, the here-today, gone-in-five-years factor comes with a pretty obvious message: Don’t expect much bang for your buck when you hang your name on a minor-league caravan with extremely limited visibility. You can bet your last nickel that the tour’s marketing department has two briefcases full of data proving how such a commitment will do terrific things for your corporate identity, but you don’t run through five business partners in 30 years if you’re peddling a real bargain.

Isn’t it the darnedest thing, how easy it is to lose an umbrella?

Not that it matters. Golf sells. Period. Great demographics, and besides, America has lots of CEOs with 17 handicaps. You can’t discuss a potential alliance while you’re playing tennis, but you can exchange long-term strategy all afternoon while you wait on every tee box for the group ahead of you. There’s money to be made in a golf cart if you’re sitting next to the right guy. Especially if he can’t play to his index.

The game has its weaknesses, but killing business relations isn’t one of them. Companies always will be interested in working with the PGA Tour, which is why Monahan and his clan don’t spend much time worrying about the big ones that got away.

You can find an umbrella just about anywhere, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to keep you dry.

So, what began as the Hogan Tour in 1990 is now named after a … consulting firm? The value of Korn Ferry stock (NYSE: KFY) dropped a whopping 17½ percent on Friday. That isn’t golf’s fault, although this pairing of PGA + KFT is a bizarre fit, and yet another sign that sports is getting overwhelmed by commercialism like a creeping Bermudagrass.

Remember the Poulan Weed-Eater Independence Bowl? I’d like to say that I don’t, either. We can blame college football for inviting the termites in to chew away at all of the traditional woodwork, at least in America. I can recall a European soccer game years ago in which every player in a red jersey appeared to have “Chevrolet” for a last name.

Yes, I was bored. And clueless in not knowing how sponsorship soon would run amok. Now we’ve got stadia named after banks and golf tournaments named after investment wizards, which is sad in that the Colonial, as everyone once knew it, has become the Charles Schwab Challenge. Northern Trust had the PGA Tour stop in Los Angeles for a while, then jumped coasts to host this year’s first FedEx Cup playoff event, which is simply titled THE NORTHERN TRUST.

Are you more likely to do your banking with a company that insists on all capital letters?

This whole thing is making me dizzy. The big tour’s next three stops are called the Rocket Mortgage Classic, the 3M Open and the John Deere Classic. Say what? There’s nothing classic about a tournament named after Rocket Mortgage, which features Rickie Fowler as a pitchman, although Fowler’s golf career isn’t exactly soaring to heights unknown. Where are these tournaments being played? Detroit and Minneapolis are large U.S. cities new to the tour, long overdue in their chance to host a big-league golf tournament, and we have to let the human-resources department decide what those tournaments will be called?

It’s silly. It’s cheesy. And it’s highly profitable. It’s the world we live in. Shouldn’t we rename it the Poulan Weed-Eater Planet Earth?

John Hawkins is a longtime sportswriter who spent 14 years covering the PGA Tour for Golf World magazine. From 2007 to 2011, he was a regular on Golf Channel’s “Grey Goose 19th Hole.” Email: johnhawkinsgolf@gmail.com