Honda hit the brakes on PGA Tour sponsorship

Mark McGowan
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Shane Lowry at The Honda Classic (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

On Thursday, the news broke that Honda were ending the longest-running uninterrupted event sponsorship deal with the PGA Tour. The Japanese automotive manufacturer has been the title sponsor of The Honda Classic, in Florida’s West Palm Beach since 1992, but will cease all involvement from 2024 onwards.

The Jack Nicklaus designed Champion Course – which has hosted the event since 2007 – is one of the sterner tests that PGA Tour pros encounter every year, and despite its proximity to Jupiter – the West Palm Beach suburb where many of the game’s elite players have made their home – have suffered increasingly weakened fields in recent years.

This is due, in part, to revised scheduling that has seen the PGA Championship move from August to May, and in turn, The Players Championship from May to March. The Honda Classic now occupies the second slot in a four-week stretch that sees the Tour move from Riviera Country Club in Hollywood to Florida, where it goes Honda Classic, Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, and Sawgrass for the Tour’s flagship event.

Naturally reluctant to play four weeks in succession, the Honda Classic was the natural exclusion for many of the game’s stars, and without the genuine big draw players, Honda’s reluctance to keep digging in their pockets is understandable.

Because they’ve not been getting the bang for their buck. Not even close, and in truth, the dissolution of the sponsorship deal will come as no surprise to many.

But that being said, it’s a worry nonetheless.

Fears of a global recession have heightened with the cost-of-living crisis, forcing many to tighten their belts, and large corporations, for whom bottom lines are all-important, are no different.

Honda’s withdrawal comes at a time when the PGA Tour have been forced to considerably raise purses in several events as a response to LIV Golf’s obscenely high prize funds and losing a multi-national giant like Honda will come as a bitter blow.

And, in many ways, the PGA Tour may be guilty of pushing Honda out the door. No tournament has suffered more since the PGA and Players Championship shakeups, and with the likes of the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow and the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands selected for elevated event status next year and the Honda Classic overlooked, the executive in charge of Honda’s purse strings probably felt enough was enough.

And of course, the Saudi-funded tour’s influence can’t be discounted as a factor in Honda’s decision either. Of those that teed it up at PGA National this year, the three highest-ranked players – Louis Ooosthuizen, Brooks Koepka and Jaoquin Niemann – have all defected, and Koepka’s decision to play was conditional to brother Chase being afforded a sponsor’s exemption.

LIV’s arrival and subsequent success – and despite relatively poor viewing figures and tickets actually being given away, bagging some of the biggest names in golf makes it a success, thus far at least – means there is a degree of uncertainty concerning professional golf’s landscape. Maybe ready-made replacements for Honda are waiting in the wings, but I think most discerning CEOs will opt to keep their powder dry and allow the dust to settle before coming up with the considerable capital – upwards of $10 million – to become title sponsor for a PGA Tour event.

And let’s face it, Honda aren’t riding off into the sunset for no reason.

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