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Mulligan? Colonial, Dean & DeLuca negotiating on sponsorship

Reports of the demise of the Dean & DeLuca Invitational golf tournament at Colonial Country Club are premature, according to club president Rob Doby.

Doby does, however, admit that negotiations are in the works to determine whether that remains the case.

“Officially, they’ve expressed a desire to renegotiate their commitment,” Doby said in an interview Oct. 24. “The official statement from the [PGA] Tour is they are still the title sponsor – and they are.”

Dean & DeLuca, a specialty foods retailer with more than 20 stores nationally and worldwide, is in the third year of a six-year sponsorship contract. It sponsored the past two annual tournaments and the next is set for late May 2018. According to a letter sent to members of the club, Colonial officials have been informed by the PGA Tour that Dean & DeLuca may not be able to meet its financial obligations.

“We’re working closely with the PGA Tour to work things out,” Doby said, adding that the club is also preparing for the possibility of losing Dean & DeLuca.

“We’re pursuing alternatives at this point, including Dean & DeLuca coming back at a lesser commitment even if they can’t be title sponsors.”

Thailand-based property developer Pace Development Corp. Plc bought Dean & DeLuca in 2014 for $140 million. It recently sold the cafes, markets and e-commerce business outside the United States to Thai retailer Central Group for $50 million, according to the Reuters news agency. Pace will continue with the ownership of operations in the United States.

Dean & DeLuca has apparently decided to drop plans to open a location at Plano’s Legacy West development, according to a report by the Dallas Morning News. The chain traces its roots to 1977 when it opened the first shop in New York City’s SoHo area.

The Colonial tournament has been held without a title sponsor, most recently in 1995. However, that was long before the purse reached the dollar amount of today, about $7 million for 2018, Doby said.

“It’s not an enviable situation, but it’s not a situation we’re completely unfamiliar with,” Doby said.

“This has been a great development issue for the city,” said District 7 Councilman Dennis Shingleton, a member of the club’s tournament committee. “We’ve had an extraordinary amount of success with economic development and economic support.”

Shingleton said that if no title sponsor is found, “a variety of charities will suffer because of this. It’s a kick in the butt.”

Doby said the charitable dollars raised by the tournament are among the top five on the PGA Tour. In 2016, the tournament generated $9.1 million for local charities.

“We really have a lot to offer the PGA Tour: history, tradition, innovation. We’re the whole package,” Doby said.

Finding a title sponsor has not been a problem since Southwestern Bell first came onboard from 1989-94. Mastercard followed from 1996-2001, Bank of American from 2002-06 and Crowne Plaza from 2007-15 before Dean & DeLuca.

The Colonial is one of a few invitational tournaments on the PGA Tour. It has been held at Colonial Country Club since 1946, making it the PGA Tour’s longest-running tournament held at the same venue. Its nickname, Hogan’s Alley, comes from golfing legend Ben Hogan winning the event five times between 1946 and 1959.

The tournament is hoping to avoid the same fate that has befallen two other PGA Tour events of late. Shell has dropped its sponsorship of the Houston Open, and The National, hosted by Tiger Woods, has lost Quicken Loans as a sponsor and is seeking a venue.

Adding to the uncertainty is the PGA’s announcement that the PGA Championship, one of golf’s four major championships, is being moved to May in 2019, though a date has yet to be announced. It has long been the final of the majors each year and is usually held in August.

“You find out in a situation like this who your friends are, and we have a lot of friends,” Doby said. “One thing you get clued in to is how much Fort Worth loves this tournament, and we love this city. I’m confident we’re going to have an event in 2018 and beyond.

“I hope it works out with Dean & DeLuca. They’ve enthusiastically supported us. We’ve had a fabulous two years and they’ve been a fabulous title sponsor.”

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