Updated: January 17, 2012, 4:08 PM ET

Humana Challenge highlights changing times

Harig By Bob Harig
If you remember the days of television with four channels and no remote, or persimmon woods and balata balls, most of the events on the PGA Tour were known simply by the town in which they were played.

Or, in many cases, by the celebrity who attached his name to the event.

It was a time when municipalities, mostly, raised the purse money, when selling tickets was a huge part of the bottom line, when a few hours of weekend television coverage -- if that -- was the norm.

The Hope and the Crosby became synonymous with tour stops in Palm Springs and Pebble Beach, respectively. Fort Lauderdale had Jackie Gleason, San Diego had Andy Williams and Los Angeles had Glen Campbell.

There were others: Dean Martin (Tucson), Joe Garagiola (Tucson), Danny Thomas (Memphis), Sammy Davis Jr. (Hartford), Ed McMahon (Quad Cities), to name a few.

[+] EnlargeJustin Timberlake
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesJustin Timberlake is now the only celebrity name attached to a golf tournament.

Today, the list has dwindled to one. Entertainer Justin Timberlake's name is part of the Shriners Hospital for Children Open in Las Vegas.

He became the sole survivor when tournament officials dropped Bob Hope's name from this week's tournament near Palm Springs.

Now known as the Humana Challenge, the tournament had survived without a title sponsor for several years after Chrysler pulled its name from the event following the 2008 tournament.

Corporate sponsorship is a necessary part of the golf landscape these days. Given the tournament structure, no event can survive for long without it, as the title sponsor puts up a healthy percentage of the purse and commits to television advertising -- required of all sponsors. These sponsorships run into the millions of dollars.

So this was inevitable. Hope died in 2003, but his name remained part of the tournament through last year. Now former President Bill Clinton is involved in the event and has made Humana's health initiatives an important part of the week.

The winner will receive the Bob Hope Trophy, but it doesn't hurt to pay homage to what was.

A few years ago, the tournament brought in comedian George Lopez to serve as host for two years and Arnold Palmer hosted the 50th version of the event in 2009. Palmer's association with the event goes back to 1960, when he won the Palm Springs Desert Golf Classic. It became the Bob Hope Desert Classic in 1965. Palmer won the tournament a total of five times, including the last of his 62 PGA Tour titles in 1973.

In those days, celebrity involvement provided a big boost, but Palmer -- who has his own tournament, the Arnold Palmer Invitational -- understands full well the changing landscape.

"We were very anxious and pleased to have people like Bob Hope and Sammy Davis and Dean Martin ... all the guys who were celebrities who put their names on golf tournaments,'' Palmer said. "It helped in a couple of ways. It helped with the general public and got attention to the tournament itself.

"It also encouraged amateurs to participate in the pro-am and to come and be a part of the tournament. And it did help with corporate sponsors, too. It was very important to the game and the professional tour.''

Of course, there was no wall-to-wall sports coverage then. Golf tournaments got weekend television coverage, at best, and many were not on the air at all.

So the celebrities and the friends they could recruit to the event helped draw more spectators and attention. And for those events that did warrant television coverage, non-golf fans might be likelier to tune in.

Of course, as golf became more popular and the cost of putting on a tournament escalated, the celebrity host went the way of metal spikes.

The sponsorship of a regular PGA Tour event runs about $7 million a year these days. For that kind of money, companies want their name and their name only on the tournament and don't want to run the risk that it will be referred to as "the Hope'' or "the Crosby,'' which years ago became the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

In addition to Clinton's involvement this year, the Humana Challenge also made the difficult step of giving up a good bit of its history. The former Hope was a 90-hole event played over five days and four courses. That has been trimmed to 72 holes, four days and three courses. And instead of playing with three amateurs for four days, pros will get one amateur partner for three days.

Those might seem like little things, but to the players, they were quite significant.

Renewing the FedEx Cup

Now that PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has agreed to stay on for four years beyond the expiration of his contract this year, a big priority is getting FedEx to renew its $35 million a year bonus pool that began in 2007. Indications are he is about to do just that.

GolfWorld reported last week that a deal to extend is imminent, and a PGA Tour official said an announcement could come as early as this week.

And given the state of the economy, the numerous title sponsors the tour has been faced with renewing or replacing in recent years, and the huge amount of money involved, getting FedEx to re-sign might be among Finchem's biggest accomplishments.

Say what you want about the FedEx Cup, its various permutations and the somewhat controversial way a champion is crowned, but the system greatly enriches the players. Not only does the winner get a $10 million bonus, but bonus money trickles all the way down to the 150th player. And only 125 players make the FedEx Cup playoff field.

Keep in mind that the European Tour's Race to Dubai originally was set to offer a $10 million final-tournament purse along with a $10 million bonus pool. Both figures were reduced to $7.5 million before the first Race to Dubai in 2009. The season-ending event on the European Tour will now have an $8.5 million purse, but so far no bonus pool has been announced.

If the PGA Tour pulls this off, it will be quite the accomplishment for Finchem.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.


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