This year’s PGA Tour event at the historic Riviera Country Club will mark the 25th anniversary of Tiger Woods’ debut on the professional golf tour.
But Woods, 41, will have a much bigger role at next month’s contest at Riviera than he did in 2006, the last time he played a tour event at the historic Pacific Palisades course.
The iconic golfer, who has committed to once again tee off at the tournament now known as the Genesis Open, will also play an organizational role: His Tiger Woods Foundation has taken over management of the 91-year-old event, to be held Feb. 13 to 19.
The tournament, which this year has a prize purse of $7 million, had been managed for the past several years by PGA Tour Inc. of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., which took control after the prior manager, the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce, struggled financially.
One of the event’s hurdles came as a result of a decline in revenue due to the absence of Woods, who first played in the tournament as a 16-year-old amateur in 1992 and has never won at Riviera. The event took an additional hit when Nissan Motor Co. Inc., a 21-year title sponsor, pulled out after moving its North American headquarters from Los Angeles to Nashville, Tenn., in 2006.
After assuming management in 2007, the PGA Tour signed a deal with Chicago-based Northern Trust Co. to become the new sponsor of the tournament. The PGA hired former Los Angeles Lakers General Manager Jerry West as executive director of the event, and he made efforts to bring on new corporate partners, increase the prize purse, and boost its prestige within the local community.
What West failed to do before resigning from his position in 2013 was lure Woods back to the course. Meanwhile, the PGA Tour didn’t want to manage the event long term and sought out a new operator.
The golf association, which prefers to have local partners manage its events, reached a deal with the Woods Foundation in mid-2016 to assume control. The Irvine-based nonprofit, which manages four other pro golf events annually, agreed to relinquish its control role of the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston as part of the arrangement.
Management companies generate revenue primarily through ticket sales and corporate sponsorships, with profits donated to designated charities. The Woods Foundation, which is also the charitable beneficiary of events it manages, raises money to support learning labs focused on a science and math curriculum as well as the Earl Woods college scholarship program, named for Tiger Woods’ late father.
“(Woods Foundation) needs to have a vision for the tournament to drive more value to the event with more fans, higher ratings, and better hospitality experiences,” said Jeff Marks, president of L.A.-based sports marketing firm Premier Ventures. “The low-hanging fruit is to work closely with existing partners and ask them to make an investment for at least two more years.”
Northern Trust, whose title sponsorship lasted nine years, ended its affiliation in 2016. It agreed to a five-year deal to sponsor a PGA Tour event in the New York area. South Korean auto manufacturer Hyundai Motor Co., which owns the Genesis luxury brand and has its North American headquarters in Fountain Valley, signed a 10-year deal with the PGA Tour to become title sponsor at Riviera before the Woods Foundation took control. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
“This tournament needs direct, local day-to-day management and a team that understands the market,” said Dave Klewan, who oversees the event as general manager of Woods Foundation. “Tiger’s connections to Riviera and our base in Irvine made it a good fit to take it to the next level.”
Other than the Genesis deal, the foundation began its management tenure with few other corporate partners in place.
“Many of the prior partnerships had expired. We had a lot of work ahead of us renewing some of the long-term partners and bringing on new ones,” Klewan said.
New partners at this year’s event include AT&T Inc., DraftKings, and Manhattan Beach-based Skechers USA Inc., with existing partners including Coca-Cola Co., JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Bank of America opting to renew their contracts.
When it came to selling corporate seating, the new management team looked at previous hospitality experiences and made some changes, including a new reserved seating option on the green at the 14th hole, which sold out in two weeks. That prompted Klewan to add even more seats there, which also sold out.
More tickets have been made available to the public as well. A $79 clubhouse ticket was introduced, meaning views from the building’s expansive patio will no longer be reserved primarily for corporate guests.
There is also a new single-day general admission ticket option, with prices starting at $39. While Klewan declined to disclose how much revenue has been generated thus far, he said ticket sales are ahead of where they were at the same point a year ago.
Sales could increase even more now that Woods has agreed to play, especially if he performs well at tournaments leading up to the Genesis Open after a long injury layoff.
But Marks cautioned about focusing only on Woods.
“Tiger always brings the nonendemic golfer and average fan to the course,” he said. “His presence is good as long as he makes the cut. If not, it may be a distraction and could negatively impact the other top golfers attending the event.”
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