The Tiger Woods scandal has been nothing but a nightmare for professional golf, which has seen its popularity soar on the achievements of one of the greatest golfers in history.
But if there’s one major tournament that may shrug off the affair, it could be the Northern Trust Open, which tees off Feb. 2 at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades.
Woods hasn’t played at Riviera in three years, a period during which the tournament has continued to draw solid crowds and generate some $1.5 million annually for various charities.
“Riviera is one of the top 10 courses in the country. The tournament has a great field,” said Kelly Mannard, executive vice president of global marketing and community affairs for Northern Trust Corp., a Chicago-based financial institution.
That’s not to say that the tournament hasn’t wanted to attract Woods, who has a legion of followers and even attracts the interest of casual fans.
In fact, the Riviera tournament was the first Professional Golfers’ Association of America event that Woods played when he joined the tour in 1992. But for some reason the spectacular course off Sunset Boulevard has never been particularly suited to Woods’ game, and he never won after playing there 11 years.
It also hasn’t helped that he’s become intimately connected with the Chevron World Challenge Thousand Oaks, which benefits his Tiger Woods Foundation charity.
Still, the PGA had so desired to lure the golfer to play in the event that last year it took over management of the event from the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce and hired basketball legend Jerry West as event executive director.
Any hope that Woods would play this year was dashed weeks ago when he announced an indefinite leave of absence from golf. That announcement followed his highly publicized auto accident outside his Florida home and a series of revelations about extramarital affairs that sullied his reputation and caused him to lose millions in endorsements. He even missed the Thousand Oaks event at the Sherwood Country Club.
Nevertheless, the Riviera field typically includes most of the top players in the world. Last year, the trophy was captured by Phil Mickelson, perennially one of the world’s top players. And for the second consecutive year, it will include Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa. The 18-year old phenom, the highest-rated Japanese player in the world, made his PGA debut last year.
In many ways, last year was far tougher for the tournament, when Northern Trust had to defend itself over criticism for throwing lavish parties to promote the event, which came shortly after the institution accepted federal Troubled Asset Relief Program funds.
The company has learned its lesson. This year, Northern Trust adjusted its approach, opting to host golf-related events and forgoing musical entertainment, such as last year’s posh celebrity-studded Sheryl Crow concert, which was a lightning rod for criticism.
“We are mindful of the current economic environment. We aren’t going to have musical acts,” said Mannard. “It will be ample to enjoy the tournament itself.”
Sponsoring the tournament helps Northern Trust raise awareness of the company’s wealth management business. Since becoming title sponsor in 2008 after the departure of Japanese automaker Nissan, Mannard said that the company has generated lots of business directly. (Nissan had been title sponsor for 19 years, but moved its North American headquarters from Gardena to Nashville, Tenn., in 2006.)
The tournament is expected to raise $1.5 million for charity in 2010. The main beneficiary of the tournament is the Junior Chamber, which founded the event in 1926.
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