Golf sponsorship comes at the right time


POSTED: Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hawaii has dodged a blow to tourism with the new sponsorship of what had been called the Mercedes-Benz Championship on the PGA tour at Kapalua, Maui. The new host is Korean broadcasting company SBS, which had sponsored a women's tournament at Turtle Bay until the LPGA signed an agreement with a competing cable network. The 10-year PGA agreement is a major plus during the continuing tourism struggle.

Tourism officials were concerned that Mercedes would end its 11-year sponsorship of the PGA season's opening tournament, which stars the previous year's tour winners. That also would have jeopardized the Sony Open on Oahu, which relies on many of the Kapalua golfers to remain in the islands the following week.

The agreement of Seoul Broadcasting System to host the event solidifies Hawaii's place on the tour and on mainland television sets for many hours in the middle of winter. The tournament also will be shown in Korea by SBS.

All this comes at a time when the PGA has struggled to maintain sponsorships by more than a dozen threatened automotive and financial service companies. Mercedes sales took a 23 percent dive in April. The tour is looking to “;focus on perhaps spreading sponsorship over broader industry sectors,”; said Tim Finchem, the PGA commissioner.

General Motors has announced it will scale back activities at this summer's Buick Open in Michigan, ending its hospitality tent, black-tie fundraiser and a Pro-Am tournament for executives and dealers. Chrysler maintains it is “;on solid financial footing”; to continue sponsorship of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic in California next year, Finchem said.

However, Stanford Financial Group, the Houston-based investment and banking giant, was dropped as co-sponsor of the Stanford St. Jude Championship in Memphis after being raided by federal officers investigating what has been described as an $8 billion Ponzi scheme. FedEx remains a sponsor of what has been shortened to the St. Jude Championship.

The LPGA also is having difficulty keeping sponsors and has been forced to shrink the tour by five events this year, including the Fields Open at Ko Olina and the Turtle Bay tournament. SBS made its exit after the LPGA signed a five-year deal with JoongAng Broadcasting Corp. to sponsor events in Phoenix and Southern California. If no company steps forward to replace ADT Security Services as sponsor of the Kapalua LPGA Classic, Hawaii will be left with no event on the women's tour.