Larry Bohannan, Palm Springs Desert SunPublished 6:00 a.m. PT Sept. 9, 2019
An international blue-chip financial giant will bring its name and its services to the Coachella Valley’s PGA Tour event in January.
American Express, one of the largest companies in the world and one of the 30 companies listed on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, will be the new title sponsor for the 61-year-old desert tour event, The Desert Sun has learned.
The multi-year sponsorship deal will re-brand the desert event as The American Express. An official announcement is expected Monday morning.
“This is absolutely the best sponsor we could ask for,” said Jeff Sanders of Lagardere Sports, the company that operates the tournament for Desert Classic Charities. “This is the best news we have received since we took over the opportunity to run this event. American Express is an iconic global brand that transcends quality. We could not be more excited.”
A high-profile sponsor
Founded in 1850 and best known for its credit card and traveler’s checks, American Express becomes the highest-profile sponsor of the desert tournament since Chrysler left the desert after the 2008 tournament when the auto manufacturer was accepting federal bailout money during that economic recession.
Some details of the new agreement, including the length of the sponsorship deal and whether the tournament’s $5.9 million purse will increase, are still being finalized and could be announced later this month.
“Our new multi-year sponsorship with this historic PGA Tour event is a perfect match,” said Stephen J. Squeri, chairman and CEO of American Express, in a statement announcing the agreement. “Golf consistently ranks as one of the top passions of our card members, and the tour provides some of the most exciting experiences at some of the best venues the game offers. We’re looking forward to making The American Express a ‘must-see’ event for fans and card members alike.”
After Chrysler left the tournament in 2008, the tournament was played for three years without a sponsor under the Bob Hope Classic name. Since then, healthcare provider Humana in conjunction with the Clinton Foundation sponsored the event for four years and employment company CareerBuilder sponsored the tournament for three years.
Seeking a sponsor for a year
CareerBuilder announced last November it was withdrawing from the event, leaving the tournament without a title sponsor last January, though CareerBuilder still funded the event.
American Express immediately becomes one of the largest companies with a title sponsor on the PGA Tour, but the company is no stranger to golf. It has supported events for decades, including a 13-year run as one of the corporate sponsors for the U.S. Open.
“We are extremely pleased to welcome American Express as the new title sponsor for what will be known as The American Express,” said Tyler Dennis, chief of operations for the PGA Tour. “With its historic connection to the great Bob Hope, the tournament has been a popular fixture in the Palm Springs area since 1960 and holds the distinction of being one of two PGA Tour tournaments where amateurs actually play during tournament competition. Through this new relationship, The American Express will continue as an important part of the West Coast Swing.”
Pro-am remains part of the tournament
While many details of the sponsorship agreement are still being finalized, the pro-am format of the tournament will remain in place. That pro-am, part of the event since its debut in 1960, currently has two PGA Tour pros playing with two amateurs in each foursome of the event.
Tournament officials already have announced that the three-course format of the tournament, featuring the Stadium Course and the Nicklaus Tournament Course at PGA West and La Quinta Country Club, will continue in 2020.
The pro-am, something Sanders has said was a selling point for a sponsor, will apparently be a big part of American Express’ imprint in the desert. The title sponsor will receive a yet-unspecified number of the 156 amateur berths, and American Express is expected to give those berths to its premier customers and clients.
“We believe that the match-up between American Express and American Express clients playing with the professionals in the desert is really unique and special,” said Sanders.
The financial company could also provide other perks to card members at the tournament, from ticket discounts to special access to events during tournament week.
West Coast swing gets stronger
The American Express is now assured of remaining a part of a strong seven-event West Coast swing for the PGA Tour that includes events in Hawaii, California and Arizona.
The American Express will again be the third event of the new calendar year, played Jan. 16-19, 2020, after two events in Hawaii and one week before the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego.
Adam Long is the defending champion of the event, pulling off a surprising one-shot victory over Adam Hadwin and tournament ambassador Phil Mickelson in January in Long’s sixth PGA Tour start.
Other details about the tournament, including which musical acts will play concerts on the driving range, also will be announced in coming weeks, Sanders said. For now, Sanders says the new sponsorship is a huge win for the desert tournament.
“It elevates the event,” Sanders said. “If we were literally going to go out and hand pick a sponsor to come to the desert and sponsor this tournament, American Express would be at the top of the list.”