Bits & Bytes of News: AT & T: 02/07/06

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It's that time again for the 2006 AT & T National Pro Am golf tournament (formerly known as 'The Crosby' and thanks to the quality of the golf courses - Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill -it still attracts a decent field - but now rarely a great field.  Though the big money run corporate PGA Tour has been good for many there is also a negative side to this trend.  

Both the AT & T National Pro Am and the Bob Hope Classic have suffered a bit with the monetary growth of professional golf.  Why so you ask?  Because the players and the tour no longer need them to market the PGA Tour product and the players no longer need to support the pro am events that once helped them get where they are today.

Both of these great events played a major role from the 1950's on through the 1980's with the good California winter weather in the desert and with celebrity giants like Hope and Crosby who were able to 'produce' a show a la Hollywood celebrities alongside professional golfer's and into the living rooms of Americans trapped back east in the usual inclement weather there in the heart of the winter.  

And as well those celebrities brought forth large Nielson ratings.  It became an annual ritual to watch them all play the 'Hope' in the desert and the 'Crosby'  at Pebble Beach. 

It was through this 'Looking Glass' that many non golfing Americans first got to see the greats of golf like Hogan, Snead, Venturi, Palmer, Nicklaus, Watson, and many, many more.  With these televised events there was also a great expansion of numbers of Americans who wanted to play and went out and learned to try to play the game of golf. 

Thereafter the trend continued as celebrity sponsored golf tournaments soon sprung up as a result.  There was the Glen Campbell Los Angeles Open, The Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic, The Andy Williams San Diego Open, the Sammy Davis Jr. Greater Hartford Open, and the Ed McMahon Quad Cities Classic to name just a select few. 

During the era of the 1980's, Deane Beman (a former player himself) worked behind the scenes in the 1980's to raise the bar as commissioner of the PGA Tour and to bring more corporate dollars to the fore.  Current commissioner Tim Finchem has picked up the ball after working under Beman's tutelage.

 So now some 20 years later and in 2006 we have almost every PGA Tour event preceded with the corporate sponsors name rather than a celebrity or tournament cities name like it was in the 1970's' or 80's.  

Beginning in 2007 the PGA Tour will cut out a lot of loyal past events that helped them along the way.  Gone already is the B.C. Open with several others to possibly follow suit.  

A ' playoff' feature has now been added to keep Tiger and the other big names playing into late in the season starting in 2007.  And a 'Super Tour' has finally arrived with 5 to 6 Million Dollar purses to boot.  Heck, he doesn't need the money certainly and neither do most of the other top players today as they are all well off.

 Loyalty is now determined by how much money you can raise, a genuine 'What have you done for me lately mentality of the PGA Tour, versus, what did you do to help us 'Arrive'.

If you see the Senior (now Champions) Tour the old stars are gone and many of their tournaments have weak galleries now.  Certainly it doesn't have the warm personalities like Arnie, Chi Chi, Jack, and the old guard that got them there.  That era of golfers as entertainment personalities promoted by the great pro am events at the Hope and Crosby is now a thing of the past - a historical memory at best. 

Fans will always want to watch the best players in the world compete on the PGA Tour's stage.  However, with the big corporate dollars run PGA Tour there is little personality distinction amongst today's players with the exception of a John Daly, Fred Funk in a dress at the Skins Game, or a Tiger Woods driven scenario on a given weekend.  

Can big corporate money alone be the distinction that creates entertainment value?  Will the new tour create more entertainment value for today's golf fans in America?  More importantly, will the next generation of golf fans today gain the same values from watching and then learning the game as they did from that earlier era?  

During that era of the 50's, 60's, 70's, the entertainment value wasn't driven by money alone.  Americans by in large had good decent jobs with benefits and their children attended tax funded city and neighborhood schools.  America's Capitalism produced goods, automobiles, and other products in the marketplace and had a strong middle class that worked and benefited from it.  Americans had more leisure time to play and golf was much more affordable.

Today's capitalism is now 'Service Driven'. where Americans are ever more 'the consumed' who have to pay for services that used to be free or were at least affordable but have now been 'capitalized' upon by private American corporations.  The result is that now vast portions of the population are people who must work two or three jobs to attain the same standards of living of that previous great era in America.  Those pressures don't leave much time to play golf and today it is a more expensive proposition for a 'have not'.  

Monetary pressures have created an America thriving in a distinctly 'money driven mentality' with a shrinking middle class and a growing class of working poor who can barely make ends meet.  And lobbyists work night and day on 'K' Street to promote officials they can get elected with those big dollars who will pass legislation to keep them in the black.  This form of profiteering with political backing assures through legislation that this trend will continue in America.  'America the Consumed'.

One thing's for sure.  That economic era of the old Hope and Crosby days is gone.  And the juries still out on whether a new PGA Tour product so driven solely by large corporate dollars will continue to entertain today's golf fans or not.  Only time will tell but I think not.

Bob Whitbread 

(Stay tuned for a Bob Hope Classic celebrity update coming Friday here on 

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