Health and well-being nudged a comedy legend aside Tuesday when tournament organizers announced a new name for the Bob Hope Classic.
The PGA Tour event in La Quinta became the Humana Challenge, continuing a nearly three-decade trend of replacing celebrity figures with corporations as title sponsors.
“The reality of it is that having celebrities’ names attached to these tournaments may have at some point driven notoriety, but in this era, you need to have cash,” said David Carter, executive director of USC’s Sports Business Institute. “You need to have tournaments that are profitable and self-sustainable, and if you don’t have that, the tournaments are going to go under.”
All four PGA Tour events in California once had a celebrity name in the title. The Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines enjoyed Andy Williams as a title host from 1968 to 1988. What is now the AT&T National Pro-Am was the Bing Crosby National Pro-Am from the tournament’s founding in 1937 until 1985. And even the Northern Trust Open in Pacific Palisades was named for singer Glen Campbell between 1971 and 1983.
But Daniel Rascher, president of SportsEconomics, a consulting firm based in the Bay Area, said that corporate sponsorship is a source of money that comes at minimal cost to the PGA Tour. He added that the sponsorship contract itself is only part of the equation.
“There’s an extra advantage when Humana comes and activates the sponsorship,” he said. “If they go and show up and set up a tent and have a celebration of their brand, and if they do it right, they get to have consumers come up. In that sense, it adds a little more to the tournament.”
Humana Senior Vice President Tom Noland said the health insurance company will have “participatory well-being activities” leading up to the tournament. Noland was adamant that Hope, who died in 2003, is “far from being eliminated,” as organizers will work with the Hope family on activities and will award a newly created Bob Hope Trophy to the winner.
The title is not all that’s changing. The new format has four rounds played at three courses rather than five rounds played at four courses as in previous years. SilverRock, which has been a part of the rotation since 2008, will no longer be used, and amateurs will play three days instead of four.
“It’s unfortunate that the name has to change, but I certainly understand why,” said Palm Springs City Councilman Chris Mills. “Without Mr. Hope there himself, it really doesn’t have the draw that it always had had. It’s been obvious over the years that the number of pros who show up has gotten fewer and fewer. … As the years go by, the name Bob Hope doesn’t mean what it used to mean.”