Is there hope for the Honda Classic without Honda?

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

The PGA Tour announced a new mixed-team event to take place in Florida at the end of this year. The Grant Thornton Invitational will feature 16 PGA Tour players and 16 LPGA players. While still an exhibition and not the more elaborate kind of mixed event promoted often by our own Michael Schurman, it’s at least something new and different. Good move by the Tours?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Terrific move!  My interest and respect for the LPGA Tour has grown substantially over the past decade, and I hope the players and the Tours try to make this event truly competitive, and not just a hit-and-giggle silly-season farce.  It’d be great if they did something interesting with the format, and not just 72 holes of medal play… e.g., even a men vs. women Ryder Cup, using men’s and ladies tees of course.  I will really look forward to watching this event.

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Cool idea for this exhibition, I hope that the best players on both Tours commit that will make a huge difference in how this “event” is perceived. Overall, I think it’s a good move (right direction) by both Tours.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: Thank you for the mention! My proposal is for M to compete directly with Fs not on a team with each but against each other in a blind draw. The sooner the organizers recognize women’s golf as a viable product, the sooner golf will spread around the world.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): It’s a step, a small one but a step, in the right direction, and maybe this is what the Tours need to dip their toes in the water and see how these types of events play out.  They need to figure out how to make it a fair competition between the Tours, so why not try with a silly season event and only 32 players. I’m with Michael on this one, I like to see more LPGA golf, and this should bring more eyes to the ladies playing at the top level.  So yes, good move by the Tours.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Mikey be happy! Well, we used to call this the Silly Season and obviously this fits the script. There have been variations on the theme, but especially now that the guys are hitting it 330-360 in the air, it is cartoonish to come up with a balancing formula to make it ‘competitive’ on a championship course. It becomes Boxing Day TV. Maybe they should just go with what their target audience is going with — technology. Go with Rory-Eldrick’s simulated golf. That would be a better Monday night show — all skill, precisely measured. You go girl!

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Definitely a move in the right direction but seems like something they did to keep the whiners at bay, a reluctant concession. The DP World Tour and LET are already doing a full-field mixed event that counts in each Tour’s standings. Surely the PGA Tour can up their game and do better than this little exhibition outing.

On Sunday in Mexico, the inaugural 2023 LIV Golf event was won by Charles Howell III, while the Crushers (Howell, Bryson DeChambeau, Paul Casey and Anirban Lahiri) took the Team title. Coverage was available on CHCH in the Toronto area. Did you watch and what did you think of it?

Deeks: Couldn’t watch it here in Florida but wouldn’t have watched it anyway.  My feelings about the LIV Tour remain unchanged; I do not support it at all.

Loughry: I did catch some of this, and Howell actually played lights out, hit some great shots. The coverage itself was interesting. Of course announcers had a clearly defined agenda/direction. There were many PGA Tour references within the telecast, and shaming, a mention that it’s “tragic” that Cam Smith will not be able to defend his title at The Players Championship in a few weeks. It was hard to understand the Leaderboard at times (more the team display), because I really have no idea who’s on what teams, etc. So, seeing ACES at the top, I have no automatic reference without looking it up. In time that may come, just like baseball/hockey, etc., I may not know all the players but I do know the popular ones/franchise players.

Schurman: I flipped back and forth and actually watched more of the LIV than the PGA TOUR mostly because of the scarcity of commercials. Feherty actually was good this time. He was more comfortable and more entertaining than he has been. On the PGA side, I enjoyed Azinger and Faxon. One thing I really dislike is the US media (Golf Channel) have yet to announce the LIV winner. As a public broadcaster, they have an obligation to report all results equally.

Rule: I did not watch it and had no interest in watching it.  The product just doesn’t interest me at all, despite many relatively big names playing in it.  So, I guess I don’t have any comments on it, I’ll leave that to those who care about the product.

Quinn: Out here on the Left Coast we’re beyond the GTA’s reach (but not influence) and so sadly don’t get CHCH. Don’t get CW either, but looks like LIV Live was a big hit with a 0.2 rating (ouch, 2 per cent of CW metered market tuned in) but way below top CW shows like America’s Funniest Animals. Anyway, now that I see the last place guy Sihwan Kim got $120,000 (US) for finishing 39 strokes back of whoever got $4 Million, sounds so exciting. May have to figure out how to get CW, maybe through Spokane or some friend thing like Netflix used to have.

Mumford: I watched and would give it mixed reviews. The shot-gun start is a disaster. They show too much putting and not enough ball striking. They don’t properly set up each hole or show any flow because players are all over the place. The announcers are pretty good, especially veterans Jerry Foltz and David Feherty. The team game is ok but could be even better if they used some different formats. LIV has said all along that the long-term success of their Tour is built around the teams. Puzzling then, that most of the emphasis and the money is still on the individual players. If you want to be different, then do something really different!

Projections of doom and gloom accompanied the announcement that this would be Honda’s final year as sponsor of the Honda Invitational. To make matters worse, the 2023 version was not a designated event. Only 4 of the Top 30 players in the world showed up and they had to dig deep on the World Rankings chart to fill out the field, yet the tournament was exciting to watch and had a terrific finish. Jack Nicklaus is an unofficial host and the course designer and says don’t worry about the tournament. Is he right?

Deeks: Not sure what “don’t worry about the tournament” means… that maybe another company will keep the event going, in Honda’s place?  But why would any sponsor want to pony up several million to underwrite a tournament that will attract so few big-name players? The PGA Tour must be worried that there will be others in the current sponsor roster that will not renew their sponsorship commitments once they expire.   Like RBC and the Canadian Open and the Heritage Classic.  The Tour felt it had to create the new “elevated” events to counter the threat of further defections to the LIV Tour, but that strategy has clearly left a number of sponsors (and maybe events) hanging.

Loughry: Jack is incorrect here on paper, but he may know something we don’t as he is a local to the community and may have something up his sleeve (business connection or maybe the Tour does). How I see all these elevated events is that they will work against non-elevated events for top players to play in, especially those that also don’t line up well with Majors, even with a revamped schedule. The Honda has never really had any top player support interestingly, but pretty good community support (fans) with Jack’s Foundation connection to it.

Schurman: As I had stated before, I will say again, the PGA TOUR is in trouble. They remind me of the great words of Michael Phelps when asked why he won so often. He answered, “You guys spend all of your time trying to figure out how to beat me. I spend all of my time trying to win”.

Rule: It isn’t a great sign that Honda is leaving after 42 years, so it’s easy to jump to conclusions that the event is dying a slow death.  And I wonder how many of the non-elevated events will suffer similar fates.  These tournaments still provide some great drama as journeyman players and up and comers can really change their lives in one week, as Eric Cole almost did.  Having Jack involved has to help with the future of the event, but it’ll take a big sponsor to jump on board.

Quinn: No, just like designing a tonne of courses around the world to look like southern Florida wasn’t right, the Bear is off on this one. If it’s not designated, it’s in trouble. With a Korn Ferry-like lineup and awkward dates, what would motivate a ‘title’ sponsor to pony up $7 million (minimum) to guarantee ad buys on the broadcast, plus a minimum $5-10 million purse? Doesn’t add up, Jack.

Mumford: I think Lee Trevino once said the pros would play 18 holes in a parking lot if there was a million dollars up for grabs. That’s pretty much where the PGA Tour is now. Don’t worry about the course, the history or 42 years of loyalty – just chase the biggest purses. Nicklaus presumably believes a course still has some draw for the players. PGA National is a tough test and exciting to watch for fans, but sandwiched between designated events, most of the top players will be elsewhere. Sorry Jack.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

2 thoughts on “Is there hope for the Honda Classic without Honda?

  1. The venerable Canadian Open is in trouble guys. The Canadian Open only has one thing going for it…RBC and its remaining cadre of patched players. They have to show up. Anyone know who is left? There is only $9MM in the pot verus $20MM. I wonder who else will make the trek north of the border the week before the US Open?

    1. Good point James. A few big names may still show up because they like to play the week before a major. However, with one elevated event the week before the RBCCO and two after, that’s a four week stretch that most will try to avoid.

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