Possible sponsorship issues make Colonial golf tournament's future uncertain

Sponsorship issues have created an uncertain future for the PGA Tour event that has called Colonial Country Club home since 1946.

FORT WORTH - According to a letter sent to Colonial Country Club members, Dean & Deluca, title sponsor of the PGA Tour event at the historic Fort Worth country club, may not be able to meet its financial obligations to stage the tournament in 2018.

The fallout from the sponsorship issues could have far-reaching implications as the PGA Tour goes about the business of re-shaping its future calendar that will include a move to May for the PGA Championship in 2019.

The letter sent by Colonial Country Club president Rob Doby informed members of the possible sponsorship issues while trying to calm any fears that may result.

"I want to ensure each and every one of you that the leadership of Colonial is working closely with our great staff and doing everything we can to address the situation," the letter reads. "We are in virtually constant communication with the PGA Tour, and are encouraged by their commitment to our event."

Since 1946, Fort Worth’s Colonial Country Club has been home to the longest-running event on the PGA Tour. In recent years, we’ve seen the likes of Jordan Speith gracing the greens.

“Colonial is the grand old park of golf,” says Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy. “It’s like the Fenway Park of pro golf.”

The upcoming Dean & Deluca Invitational is set for May 17-21, 2018. The late May spot on the calendar is where the tournament has resided for the past several years. The PGA Tour has yet to announce an exact date for the PGA Championship in 2019.

Some members of the club may fear the sponsorship issues could cause the PGA Tour to move the tournament to a less desirable spot on the calendar.

“Having [the tournament at] Colonial here means a lot to Fort Worth,” Kennedy said. He said the tournament brings $122 million into the city each year.

The PGA Tour provided a statement to WFAA Thursday afternoon, saying Dean & Deluca is still the title sponsor of the tournament and is in "continuous conversations" about the event's future.

“We are working closely with the leadership team at Colonial Country Club on the long-term future of the DEAN & DELUCA Invitational," the statement read. "It’s important to note that DEAN & DELUCA is still the title sponsor of the event, and we are in continuous conversations with them on their position with the event going forward.  We’ll have more to share in the coming weeks.”

The Dean & Deluca Invitational is the longest-running tournament on the tour on the same course. Only nine other events are older, and all of those have changed locations since the Colonial started in 1946.

Dean & DeLuca is the tourney’s third sponsor in 15 years and had agreed to sponsor it until 2021. “This is a big deal, so we're very edgy about how Dean & DeLuca’s going to play this out,” says City Councilman Dennis Shingleton, who’s also been the assistant chair of marshals for the tournament for years.

He says there’s already talk of possible Plan B’s.

“You can guess who the big donors might be or big sponsors might be, that's not a hard thing to figure out,” Shingleton said. 

Shingleton also pointed out changes to the PGA’s calendar raise additional concerns.

“I think there are tournaments across the nation that are going to be looked at by the PGA as ‘Do we really need another tournament this week?’” he said. 

“Are you fearful Fort Worth is on that list?” WFAA asked. 

“You can’t help but be fearful,” Shingleton said. 

Laura Neal, SVP Communications for the PGA Tour said the following statement:

“We are working closely with the leadership team at Colonial Country Club on the long-term future of the DEAN & DELUCA Invitational.  It’s important to note that DEAN & DELUCA is still the title sponsor of the event, and we are in continuous conversations with them on their position with the event going forward.  We’ll have more to share in the coming weeks.”

Numerous calls and messages to Mayor Betsy Price’s office went unreturned about this topic. City Manager David Cooke told us this was “news to me.”

PHOTOS: Notable winners at Colonial

Read the full letter below:

My fellow members:

As some of you may be aware, during a conference call last Thursday with representatives of the PGA Tour, we were informed that our title sponsor, Dean & Deluca, had notified the Tour that it may be unable to meet its financial obligations for the tournament sponsorship in 2018.

While certainly disappointing, it is not a situation that we as a Membership and Staff are unfamiliar with. I fully expect that over the coming days there will be a flood of information flowing from a variety of sources with the rumor mill operating at maximum capacity.

I want to ensure each and every one of you that the leadership of Colonial is working closely with our great staff and doing everything we can to address the situation. We are virtually in constant communication with the PGA Tour and are encouraged by their commitment to our event.

I should add that we have received universal support and offers of assistance from a wide variety of sources, beginning with the Mayor Betsy Price, Congresswoman Kay Granger, former Champions of our event, and many others.

Through the collective efforts of countless individuals we have been able to make good progress in a very short period of time. While we recognize that we have a long way to go, we are nevertheless optimistic.

I will continue to update the membership and look forward to seeing our voting members next Wednesday at the Annual Meeting.

Mr. Rob Doby Club President Colonial Country Club

© 2017 WFAA-TV


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