Courtesy of the Desert Sun: Larry Bohannan
Lagardere Sports signed on to operate the PGA Tour’s CareerBuilder Challenge just two months ago. Just two months from this week, Lagardere will unveil many of the changes it hopes to bring to the desert golf tournament.
That might seem like a small timeframe, but officials from Lagardere believe they will be able to showcase their philosophy for the CareerBuilder when the tournament is played Jan. 18-21, 2018, in La Quinta.
“We have been involved in the tournament, sort of consulting (in 2017), so we do know a lot about the tournament, which helps," said Jeff Sanders, the executive director of the CareerBuilder for Lagardere. “There’s no doubt we have a short four months and we are halfway there.”
Sanders and tournament director Pat McCabe both said they are happy with tournament preparations two months out from the 59th annual event, even as they try to expand the focus of the event from a PGA Tour event to a community event featuring concerts, food and beverages.
“If you are running a golf tournament and you are basing everything on golf, and you are not one of the big tournaments, you better have some other elements,” Sanders said. “What we have found is the golf fan, the Golf Channel viewer, will come out and watch golf. We want all the other people to come out.”
Sanders, who has a home in La Quinta and who played in the tournament's pro-am six times in the 1980s, openly says the model Lagardere is bringing to the CareerBuilder is the same model the company has used the last two years in operating the Safeway Open in Napa, the opening event of the PGA Tour’s wrap-around season in October.
That model includes offering upgraded food, beer and spirits and concerts for a single-day ticket price. It also includes continuing to focus on the $5.9 million tournament, which will again feature World Golf Hall of Famer and two-time desert winner Phil Mickelson as event ambassador.
“Certainly, we are comfortable and confident that the golf fan is going to come, just due to the fact that it is 156 of the best players in the world,” McCabe said. “As Jeff mentions, all this great stuff, food, wine, concerts, we can only control what happens outside the ropes. What we want to do is focus on that. It has been about golf here for a long time, but Phil Mickelson, 42-time champion, winningest player in President Cup history and he plays maybe 20 events of the 49 in a year, we’ve very fortunate for him to be on the list."
Hudson Swafford is the defending champion of the CareerBuilder Challenge, earning his first tour win at the event last January on the Stadium Course at PGA West.
Changes coming to this year’s tournament include two concerts, one Friday of tournament week and one Saturday, to be held on the driving range at PGA West.
The tournament is also debuting a new 8,500-square-foot fan pavilion, sponsored by Von’s, overlooking the 18th green of the Stadium Course. Sanders said another important change will be eliminating upgraded tickets for certain on-course hospitality tents, opening those tents to anyone with a ticket to the tournament.
“We are going to open ourselves up to the community and let everyone come in for $30 (pre-sale single-day ticket price), watch Phil Mickelson play golf, go into the 18th green, air-conditioned, first-class Von’s Fan Pavilion, and then go to a concert,” Sanders said. “We want to send a message for everyone to come to this event and have fun. Come out and watch Phil and the other 155 great players, go into the Von’s Pavilion, get yourself a glass of wine or a cocktail, get yourself a nice meal.”
The bands for the two concerts will be announced soon, Sanders said, as will a new presenting sponsor for the tournament. CareerBuilder continues as the tournament’s title sponsor for the third year of its six-year deal with the PGA Tour.
Sanders added that he hopes the tournament will find an identity it has been lacking with the coming changes, and that one of those identities will to be strongly identified with the city of La Quinta. The tournament is played on the Stadium and Jack Nicklaus Tournament courses at PGA West in La Quinta and La Quinta Country Club.
“We want this to be the La Quinta event,” Sanders said. “Indian Wells is tennis, Indio is concerts, music, and La Quinta is PGA Tour golf. This is La Quinta’s golf tournament.”