THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – In his opening statement to a Wednesday news conference, Tiger Woods waxed poetic about his World Challenge, now in its 15th year here in this wealthy enclave on the outskirts of Los Angeles.
“This is going to be an incredible week … we've got an amazing field over here … we've got the golf course in probably the best shape it's ever been in … it's been just an amazing, amazing 15 years … it means a lot to us …”
The buried lede, of course, is that these words were less a love song than a polite break-up. One of those “it’s not you, it’s me” kind of break-ups.
At this time next year, the world’s elite players will instead converge on the posh estate of Isleworth, former home to Woods, former home to the Tavistock Cup and new home to this tournament.
If Woods and his old stomping grounds sound like strange bedfellows after the infamous incident on Thanksgiving night of 2009 and the resulting shrapnel – metaphorically speaking – there’s good reason. But there’s even better reason to move it there.
That reason is what makes the world go ‘round, what doesn’t grow on trees, what can’t buy me love and what is the root of all evil, depending on your preferred cliché.
That’s right, it’s money – and for a tournament which has seen its total purse decrease from $5 million in 2011 to $4 million a year ago to $3.5 this week, and which had its host underwrite the entire sum last year, and continues a mission to raise charity funding, it’s a very real concern.
“It's harder to get good players to play, quite frankly,” Woods explained of an increasingly busy late-season schedule. “And sponsorship dollars are certainly not exactly easy to come by in these economic times.”
Northwestern Mutual has attached its name to the tournament this year as part of a one-year title sponsorship. Last year, there was no title sponsor. In the past, that role has been filled by Chevron, Target and Williams.
All of which feels like a major head-scratcher.
The event not only features the game’s golden goose every year; it banks on him as a willing and amiable host. That would figure to be enough to get corporations to throw large sums of money at the tournament. Throw in the fact that, despite Woods’ claim that it’s getting harder to get good players, there are 18 of the world’s top 30 in the field this week, and the promise of a guaranteed star-studded Sunday leaderboard should serve as plenty of bait.
“It was just a lot of factors, but certainly title sponsorship is a key part of it,” explained Greg McLaughlin, president and CEO of the Tiger Woods Foundation. “So definitively, if we had someone who said, ‘You have to stay here,’ then we’d stay here. But that wasn’t the case.”
The truth is, this move was a long time in the making.
“Had there not been a partnership with Tavistock, we were considering a separate parallel path in the area where he lives,”McLaughlin continued. “Not Medalist or anything like that, but in that region. We’ve been talking about this since last year. So the Tavistock thing just evolved from a bunch of conversations.”
“It was certainly not an easy decision,” Woods said. “Certainly wasn't an easy decision, but there are a lot of players that are based there in Florida. It will be a little easier for the guys to make a trek out instead of coming all the way out here, to stay right there in Florida.”
That will actually be a major selling point in keeping the field as high-profile as it is this year. McLaughlin pointed to the likes of Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood, each of whom have homes in Florida and each of whom have played in this event in the past then skipped it before returning this week, as his target audience for this move.
“Now you make it really easy for them,” explained McLaughlin, who also serves as tournament director. “Now they can sleep in their own bed, drive over, have their own car and family and friends. I think that’s what we’re hoping to be able to do.”
He’s also hoping to avoid conventional wisdom.
There’s an old adage that states, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but McLaughlin believes the opposite actually applies in this situation.
“You never want to rebuild it when you have to. You want to rebuild when it’s going well. And then you can look at how to make it better versus reacting and doing something,” he said. “In order to stay competitive long-term, that was the view we needed to take.”
In other words: It’s not you, California. It’s us.
The tournament will say goodbye to its longtime home this week before parting ways. In the most polite way possible, of course.
“For us to have a 15‑year run is a very long run as you know,” Woods said. “Most golf tournaments don't stay at one golf course for that long. For us to be here for 15 great years, I foresee certainly an emotional Sunday for sure.”