Name-Calling as a Money Sport


Some people dread Armageddon. I dread naming rights for golf courses.
You know it's possible. And scary. Those of us who still call Pro Player Joe Robbie, we who never heard of Cinergy Field but know where Riverfront is, we Pittsburghers for whom the Union Trust Building was never Mellon Bank Two.we cringe at the idea of the Coca-Cola TPC at Sugarloaf or the Coors Castle Pines Golf Club.
To its credit, the PGA Tour hasn't succumbed to the pressure that seems to bear down on sports executives the world over. Company names assault us from everywhere, and naming rights go for many millions of dollars. Nothing like having every sportscaster and newspaper in the area hype your company simply by saying where the game is.
Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with corporate promotion in general. If a company owns a course (Doral, for example), it has every right to shout it to the world.
But do I really need to be reminded who owns the Braves? Or which beer company owns the Colorado market? Will that make me more likely to buy cable? Or beer?
Of course not. If I were that easily swayed, every business report would be on the latest anti-slice gadget. It's just a matter of corporate America having long ago been dazzled by the idea of the brand.
A coworker of mine, lamenting the demise of a golf equipment company, once said, 'Like so many other companies, they mistook the brand for the product.' He couldn't have been more right. In and out of golf, companies often forget what they're selling. In golf, where bag appeal is often the primary incentive in the club-buying decision, confusing the brand and the product is an easy thing to do. Once you build up the enthusiasm you need to promote what you make or sell, the logo sometimes gets big enough to block out the product.
Let's hope, then, that we never see The Southern Company Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club, or anything remotely like it. Not doing everything it has the power to do allows golf to claim some of the little higher ground left in sports.
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Speaking of names, it still steams me that Nabisco didn't see fit to keep Dinah Shore's name on an LPGA event. Same for AT&T and Bing Crosby.
OK, so I'm living in the past. But things seemed right when celebrities had their names attached to golf tournaments. It sewed a thread of history and consistency through the game's generations.
Face it: Calling the Masters Tournament the same thing year after year has helped maintain its stature.
The same could be said for the old 'singers' and comedians' tournaments.' And modern sponsors could work some good combinations. Crosby's name could be happy alongside AT&T's, and a whole new generation could learn about Der Bingle's importance to the game. The Greater Hartford Open would be a nice way to remember Sammy Davis Jr. for a weekend. Would more people come to the Honda Classic if it had some of the panache of its Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic days?
I'm a big Moon River fan, so I vote for a return to the Andy Williams-San Diego Open at Torrey Pines. And who can forget the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic, now the FedEx St. Jude? least we still have Hope. Thanks, Bob. And thanks, Chrysler.