Of Sponsorships Affordability and Mango-Scented Towels

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Thoughts for a summer afternoon:
 
The Sponsor Dance: Its true that sponsorship churn on the PGA Tour seems more volatile than in a typical year. But this isnt a typical year.
 
Even before September 11, years before as a matter of fact, companies of all sizes were beginning to scrutinize their promotional spending. As business has become more competitive, corporations have tried to learn to live with the fact that corporate entertainment is necessary but not very measurable. You can never say with certainty how many sales are pushed along by glad-handing and booze-pouring ' but you can certainly write them off if you dont do it.
 
So its no wonder that some sponsors are becoming more circumspect with the dollars (anywhere from $3 million to $6 million) it takes to put ones name on a golf tournament. Add September 11 concerns and the Dow free-fall to the mix, and it makes sense that a lot of sponsorships would be in flux.
 
The PGA Tour is run by experienced executives, so it's persona is that of a large corporation ' in other words, the kind of entity people love to hate these days. But dont blame the Tour for shifting sponsorships. Under the model the Tour has been using for years, sponsorships are sold at the local level by tournament organizers. The Tour uses its Rolodex and business savvy to help organizers get matched up with sponsors, if the locals need the help.
 
Its regrettable when an event such as Reno-Tahoe goes on life support, and everybody hopes it and other troubled tournaments will recover. But just like baseball and other major sports, golf is a business. And the economic cream rises to the top, as it should.
 
By the bye, the biggest loss in terms of tournaments with a rich history would be the Hilton Head event, now in peril because of the recent bankruptcy filing of former sponsor Worldcom, which had been under contract through 2006. But that event should be an easy sell. Lets just hope its to someone with a good auditor.
 
What the Market Wont Bear: Whens the last time you played an upscale daily fee? Greens fees above $100 may provide the country-club-for-a-day experience for those who are entertaining clients, or who have forgotten how many Porsches they have. But such courses dont get a lot of repeat play, and they dont offer a sustainable strategy for growth of themselves or the game.
 
Case in point: An industry friend told me he recently played at Meadows Del Mar near San Diego at the resident rate of $100. (He was the host for the other three. Do the math, and you get a pretty big pre-lunch nut right away.) He ran into a ranger who told him their foursome was the only one on the course at the moment, but that three or four others would be along later.
 
On the other hand, go 90 miles north and get in line at the always-jammed 36-hole facility at Griffith Park in Los Angeles, where players happily wait hours to play for a reasonable price. The two-level range is constantly full too.
 
What more evidence do you need as to what kind of courses need to be built?
 
I wont be happy until affordable course openings outnumber upscale daily fee openings four to one.
 
The Dimpled World: Speaking of affordability, the golf ball industry has been good at it for years. Were so spoiled by the breadth of choices that we take it for granted. Whether you go for Pro V1, HX Blues, Tour Accuracy and their competitors or multi-packs of balls aimed at the low-price-loving market, theres something out there for you.
 
Thats called responding to consumer demand. Course builders, are you listening?
 
Butbutbut: Its true, golf courses cost a lot to maintain. And owners constantly raise the excuse that they have to provide a lush carpet of green wall-to-wall, or they cant compete. While theres some truth to this, I doubt its a real problem for folks who want to play affordable golf. As long as it was mowed and I good condition, I never met a weed or a brown spot in the fairway that interfered with the fun of a well-struck ball.
 
Can I Have Mint?: The Ranger came around to our group yesterday about six holes in and offered us cold, wet, mango-scented towels. It was easily 97 degrees with about 98 percent humidity, so we eagerly accepted and put them around our necks.
 
Not to be ungrateful ' but who chose mango?
 
Oh, and if this is one of those things that jacks up the greens fee, keep your towel. Ill bring my own. Minus the mango.