Doral golf tourney in final year under PGA flag, Ford sponsorship
By Suzy Valentine
The Ford Championship at Doral professional golf tournament, which runs through this weekend, will have a new sponsor and format next year.
The competition, in its 45th year and fourth with the automaker, is to change from a PGA to a World Golf Championship event next year.
The tournament is entering a five-year sponsorship deal starting in March with Computer Associates, which is to undergo a re-branding. The event, which will be held three weeks later, will be called the CA Championship.
The World Golf Championships are the result of a collaboration of golf's five leading professional tours. The PGA Tour joined forces with the European Tour, Japan Golf Tour, PGA Tour of Australasia and Southern Africa Tour 10 years ago to produce the hybrid.
The CA Championship is to join four other tournaments with the World Golf Championship distinction - the accenture Match Play Championship, which is moving from California to Arizona; the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, OH; the American Express Championship in Britain; and the Barbados World Cup.
"Ford is not renewing its contract. This is its last year," said Bob Shafer, president of the South Florida Golf Foundation. "There will be much more international attention focused on the event in its next incarnation."
Organizers are optimistic that the change will increase the event's cachet. Though the Ford Championship at Doral isn't one of the majors - golf's grand slam consists of the Masters, the British Open, the US Open and the PGA Championship - the event has prestige in golfing circles.
This year, the field is to include the top 14 players on the PGA tour's earnings list and nine of the top 10 golfers in the world rankings. Tiger Woods last week confirmed that he would compete, and South African Ernie Els, absent last year, is to take part.
Participation in a World Golf Championship event is limited to the world's top 50 players, something that could elevate the event.
"The tournament is to attract NBC coverage," said Eddie Carbone, executive director. "It is to become the station's anchor event for springtime. That will bring a lot of international media attention. It is replacing the Players Championship in the sporting calendar."
He anticipated that the change in status would double the event's economic impact here.
"The World Golf Championship designation should mean $40 million to $50 million for Miami-Dade County," said Mr. Carbone, "and we should be able to climb from that. This year, the economic impact is closer to $20 million to $25 million."
A Broward County sports analyst said the transformation would consolidate South Florida's position as a sporting hub.
"A premiere event can do nothing but enhance this community," said Kathleen Davis of the Sports Management Research Institute in Weston. "It couldn't happen to a better geographic event. This is a significant step up that should impact the economy and attendance."
Sponsor recall remains a challenge, she said. "This championship is so ingrained as the Doral," said Ms. Davis, "and the media refer to it as the Doral. The event doesn't seem to have gained the recall for sponsors of the NASDAQ-100 Open tennis tournament, which also worked for former sponsor Lipton."