Sponsor Wanted: The Kraft Nabisco Championship's Future Is Unclear—but the Tourney Is Unlikely to MoveWritten by Brane Jevric
Promotion is everything when it comes to sports events. Dinah Shore knew that; that’s why, back in 1972, she attached her name, and fame, to a brand-new women’s golf event at the Mission Hills Country Club.
To this day, many still call the LPGA’s first major of the year simply Dinah. Soon, that might be the only name this tournament has.
As of Monday, April 7, what has been known since 2002 as the Kraft Nabisco Championship will cease to exist under that name. The food giant, associated with the tourney since 1982, will not be the title sponsor anymore. Instead, the LPGA will take over the event, and the hunt for a new sponsor will start.
Remember the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, the other famed local golf extravaganza? A while after Hope’s passing, Chrysler dropped out, and the event struggled to regain its former glory. Thankfully, Humana and the Clinton Foundation eventually stepped in, in 2012, as sponsors.
I’ve covered the Kraft Nabisco Championship for 15 years now. I’ve watched the great champions like Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa and Karrie Webb jump into the lake adjacent to the 18th hole after wining the tourney. That victory leap is one of the most notable traditions in the game.
So how do you sell golf history nowadays? I asked Annika Sörenstam, a three-time winner here at Mission Hills, that very question. The now-retired golf superstar is optimistic about the tourney's future.
“I’m pretty sure that the tournament will stay here,” she said. “First of all, this is a major championship. There’'s so much history here. This, I think, is a really an exciting opportunity for a company to be involved with. It's just a lot of positive energy. I’m very optimistic that the things are going to go well here.”
Sorenstam isn’t the only person who is optimistic about the tourney’s future. Tournament director Gabe Codding is optimistic, too—and his job could be on the line thanks to the uncertainty over the sponsor.
“With this year’s event, we’re celebrating the 30-year legacy of Kraft Nabisco as a sponsor, and I was there for 20 years of it,” he said. “This tournament has emerged as the most historic event on the LPGA tour. So right now, it’s all about finding the right partner who loves the location, who loves the history and who loves to be involved with the first major.”
Codding is confident that a new title sponsor will be found, perhaps within six to eight months.
"We will take a time to find the right sponsor, to make sure that the chosen sponsor stays with the tournament for a long time," he said.
As for his future with the tournament, Codding said that he started working at the event when he was barely 18, and is prepared to exit if needed after serving more than five years as the director.
“The day I know that there’s somebody who can contribute more to the tournament than I can, I'll be ready to step aside. I'll be OK with it!" Codding said.
There are sporadic rumors that the tourney could move to Arizona or even Nevada. However, that’s unlikely to happen.
The tournament’s traditions include a statue of Dinah Shore at the 18th green. How could you move a monument to Dinah—the first lady of golf—and the legacy she created here at Mission Hills to Las Vegas? Let’s hope she will forever stay here, greeting the champions on their way to history.