World Golf Championships Are in Need of a Facelift

World Golf Championships Are in Need of a Facelift

The Blue Monster course at Doral has hosted a WGC event since 2007.
Fred Vuich

For an outfit obsessed with marketing, the PGA Tour has never seemed to grasp the concept of the World Golf Championships it created. During the better part of a decade, two of the WGCs were parked in the metropolises of Akron and Tucson. A third was also marooned in the U.S., but at least it was in South Florida, the gateway to Latin America. Yet the WGCs ruined that, too.

The Tour stop at Doral dates to 1962, and for years it was a lively good time. All that fun mojo was drained away by the vampire squid that is the WGC, with its faux seriousness and blatant corporatism. The Cadillac Championship cannibalized the Doral event in 2007 and then gave us Donald Trump, who bought the host venue and two years ago turned it from a rollicking birdiefest into a joyless slog. Since settling in China in 2009, the WGC-HSBC Champions has anchored the fall schedule and given Asia the big-time event it deserved, but for years now the Stateside WGCs seemed to have no point other than helping Tour players buy third homes.

This is why it was so refreshing to hear that the Doral WGC is decamping for Mexico City in 2017. It will be an upgrade, because it has to be. A new sense of place in a foreign land brings us closer to the original mission of the WGCs, and the more broad-minded of pros were quick to embrace the idea of playing south of the border. “They’re called the World Golf Championships for a reason,” Rory McIlroy said last week. “I always felt that having three of them in the United States isn’t spreading the game.”

The lords of Ponte Vedra Beach have invested heavily in the PGA Tour Latinoamérica, and the Rio Games will put golf front and center before the vast South American audience. Mix in the marketing might of a WGC in Mexico City, and sports fans all over the Spanish — and Portuguese — speaking world will be exposed to the sport like never before. If this doesn’t grow the game in Latin America, nothing will.

The political overtones to this move were inevitable, and McIlroy kicked things off with an excellent joke about the players having to jump over the wall that Trump wants to build on the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump showed no such sense of humor in his pithy press release: “No different than Nabisco, Carrier and so many other American companies, the PGA Tour has put profit ahead of thousands of American jobs, millions of dollars in revenue for local communities and charities and the enjoyment of hundreds of thousands of fans who make the tournament an annual tradition.”

The WGC at Doral was one of the worst-attended events on Tour, so it’s no surprise that the Donald’s estimate of the crowd size at his joint is wildly inflated. As for the jobs at stake, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem made it perfectly clear where his loyalties lie: “We value dollars for our players. We have a strong sense of fiduciary responsibility. So we make decisions that are in the best interests of our players, short term and long term.”

It costs upward of $14 million to sponsor a WGC. By all accounts Cadillac was unwilling to keep ponying up. The bloviations of the proprietor of Trump Doral no doubt scared away other potential suitors. As Finchem said, “Donald Trump is a brand, a big brand, and when you’re asking a company to invest millions of dollars in branding a tournament and they’re going to share that brand with the host, it’s a difficult conversation.”

The company footing the bill in Mexico City is Grupo Salinas, which has vast holdings in communications, banking and oil, among other industries. Billionaire patriarch Ricardo Salinas Pliego is taking a low-key approach and is said to not want his company’s name attached to the tournament; for now it is simply being called the WGC-Mexico Championship. That has a nice ring to it and offers hope for a future with more worldly WGCs.