When the PGA Tour makes its Los Angeles stop in February at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, it won't be the Nissan Open anymore. After 19 years as title sponsor, the Japanese car company has dropped out and the event will take on a new identity as the Northern Trust Open.

Chicago-based Northern Trust Corp., one of the nation's largest trust companies and personal wealth managers, made its first major venture into sports sponsorship by signing a five-year, multimillion-dollar agreement to be the title sponsor at the event through 2012.

"This is going to be a legacy event for us," said Bob Graziano, managing partner, wealth advisory services. "We've been looking at sponsoring this type of event for a long time, but wanted to find the right match for our company."

Graziano, the former Dodgers president and chief operating officer, is anxiously awaiting the event. The company plans marketing and hospitality events that will bring both employees and clients to the links from offices around the world at the February tournament.

Northern Trust is celebrating its 20th anniversary in the Los Angeles market and plans charitable and community events that will launch when PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem visits in advance of the competition for a breakfast hosted by Northern Trust.

Former title sponsor Nissan Motor Co. moved its domestic headquarters from Gardena to Nashville, Tenn., two years ago. That led to the company's decision to redistribute its sponsorship dollars.

The decision was made a little easier because the excitement of the event has faded now over the Tiger Woods question. Top draw Woods made his PGA Tour debut in 1992 at the Nissan Open when he was a 16-year-old amateur. But it is the only event that he has played at least four times as a professional without winning. He skipped the event entirely in 2007 and it isn't known if he'll play in 2008.

In order to entice Woods to play, the officials sweetened the purse by $1 million to a total of $6.2 million. Other changes for the tournament include reducing the number of players in the pro-am from four amateurs to three per group.

"We think that he will play in this tournament," said Graziano. "We've increased the prize money and we will make every effort to entice him to play."

Slicing Courses

Santa Monica-based American Golf Corp. streamlined its business with the sale of 42 total golf courses last month to Orlando-based CNL Income Properties Inc. and Dallas-based Evergreen Alliance Golf Ltd. The company is trying to move forward in 2008 in core markets where it remains such as Southern California, New York and Atlanta.

"We will look for requests for proposals from municipalities in densely populated areas," said Mark Friedman, senior vice president and general counsel. "Our sweet spot is in the private club market as well as in the municipal golf market where we can operate clubs."

American Golf remains one of the largest golf course owners and operators in the country, even after the sale of nearly 25 percent of its courses. Courses sold were located throughout the country, with most located in Ohio, the Chicago area and Arizona. The properties changed hands as American Golf owners Goldman Sachs & Co. and Starwood Capital Group were considering the sale of the entire company.

"They are four years into their investment and elected to maintain ownership in the company, but trim the portfolio and exit non-core markets," said Friedman.

Play Ball

The Los Angeles Dodgers will host the World Series champion Boston Red Sox in an exhibition game before the start of next year's baseball season. However, the players on the field aren't the only people the Dodgers are bringing from Boston.

The team hired Dr. Charles Steinberg as its chief marketing officer. He served in that position for the Red Sox for the past six years before taking the position with the Dodgers. Steinberg worked for the Baltimore Orioles for 19 seasons and the San Diego Padres for seven seasons before joining the Red Sox organization.

The move comes as the team signed Dennis Mannion as chief operating officer, a position vacated by Marty Greenspun. Greenspun, who worked with the Yankees prior to joining the Dodgers in 2004, announced his resignation on the same day that the team hired former Yankees manager Joe Torre.

Staff reporter David Nusbaum can be reached at (323) 549-5225, ext. 236, or at dnusbaum@labusinessjournal.com.

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