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PGA Tour narrows title sponsor list for Honda Classic from 40-50 to about five

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — The Honda Classic is not going anywhere.

No longer will it be the Honda Classic following this year’s event that starts Feb. 23 at PGA National. But there will be a classic. What’s it is called is still being negotiated.

“The (PGA) tour has no interest in dropping us off the schedule,” executive director Andrew George said.

“We’re really excited about what ’24 and beyond is going to look like. The excitement of a new title (sponsor)and 42 years of building blocks (with Honda) and now let’s take it up a notch again.”

Because Honda Motors is ending the longest uninterrupted title sponsorship deal for a PGA Tour event following this year’s tournament, it does not mean the event will vanish.

Could it be moved in the schedule to give the tournament a more desirable spot that would boost the field? Yes. In fact, that is very likely in the future.

Early commits: Top 20 players, five past champions in 2023 Honda field

Moving it, or loosening the schedule around Honda, is essential. The PGA Tour designating it as an elevated event with a $20 million purse would be a major boost and result in a field we have not seen here since the 1987 PGA Championship was held on the same course.

But that also means we could have a future PGA Tour event in our area anywhere from-mid January to mid-April.

The one certainty is when the 2023 Honda Pilot Trailsport is floated in the lake by the 18th green this week, it will be the last time a Honda sits atop that glistening water.

Tour working every day to find sponsor

The PGA Tour, George’s staff, the Honda Classic board and Jack and Barbara Nicklaus – the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation has been the primary charitable beneficiary of the tournament since 2007 – are working toward signing a new title sponsor.

Those talks started before it was announced about three months ago that Honda was ending its contract.

“I think it’s a point of comfort for us knowing there’s a group at the PGA Tour that just focuses on time and sponsorship,” George said. “They wake up every day thinking about how are we going to replace the Honda Classic. Immediately they started with a great list.”

George said 40 to 50 companies were on the original list and that number has been narrowed to about five. While the tournament has struggled with attracting strong fields in recent years mainly because of where is falls in the PGA Tour schedule, the event still remains one the tour can sell because of the location, marketplace, growth and philanthropy. With Honda as a sponsor, more than $50 million has been contributed to national and local charities, including a record $6.45 million last year.

“That’s because of what we’ve done over the last 17 years,” said George, referencing the years Honda has been held at PGA National. “It’s because of the relationship with Jack and Barbara, because of the location in South Florida.”

It was not long ago this tournament was a gem on the tour thanks to the hard work of longtime executive director Ken Kennerly and George, who was named Kennerly’s successor in May, among others. When the Honda Classic field was among the strongest on tour outside of the majors.

In 2014, seven of the top nine in the world took on the challenge of the Champion Course. The next two years more than half of the top 20 were in the field.

Honda becomes title sponsor in 1982

The tournament started in 1972 as the Jackie Gleason Inverrary Classic and played at Inverrary Golf and Country Club in Lauderhill. Honda became a sponsor in 1981. Three years later, it was moved to Eagle Trace in Coral Springs and renamed the Honda Classic.

The event moved to Weston Hills Country Club and Heron Bay before relocating to Palm Beach County in 2003 where it was held at Mirasol for four years before moving across PGA Boulevard to PGA National.

The tour is not going to rush into naming this sponsor. They obviously got the last one right so the precedence has been set for a long, lasting relationship with the right partner.

“We would sacrifice timing for getting the right partner, at least in my opinion,” George said. “We’re going to plan for the tournament the same way it would be before, so that part doesn’t get held up by a title (sponsor). We know we can be turn key. If someone signed up in September, we’re still going to have a great showcase for them in year one.”

But in many ways, the timing could not be better for the tour to give the tournament a big boost. What better way to throw its support behind an event that has been stuck in arguably the most undesirable spot on the PGA Tour schedule in recent years by telling potential sponsors it will become an elevated event in 2024.

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