The annual PGA TOUR event in Palm Springs, California, has gone by many names over the years, including being affectionately known as “The Hope” in a nod to its long-time ties with entertainer Bob Hope. Now there’s new hope for the January event on the West Coast Swing, with a new title sponsor and a new host in five-time major winner Phil Mickelson.
The tournament struggled to find a long-term sponsor in recent years – played as the Humana Challenge from 2012-15 and then the CareerBuilder Challenge from 2016-18. Last year’s event, the Desert Classic presented by WorkDay, was played without an official title sponsor. But earlier this year, American Express stepped in with a five-year title sponsorship for the tournament, which is played on three area courses – the iconic PGA West Stadium, PGA West Nicklaus and La Quinta Country Club – and features professionals playing with amateur golfers over the first three rounds.
Hope began the tradition of inviting celebrities to play with the pros and the event, which debuted in 1960, was renamed the Bob Hope Desert Classic in 1965. In 1986, it changed to the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. Through the years, as names have changed, it’s remained one of two PGA TOUR events where amateurs actually play alongside pros during tournament competition.
Mickelson has strong ties to the event and the area, making him a natural fit to join Tiger Woods and Davis Love III as the only active players who also host PGA TOUR events. The 49-year-old Mickelson played junior tournaments in the Coachella Valley, has a home in the La Quinta area, and has made 16 appearances in the Palm Springs event, winning twice and finishing as the runner-up last year.
“We are going to make this golf tournament the vision that Bob Hope had 60 years ago when he started this event,” said Mickelson, who’s had more of a behind-the-scenes role as a tournament ambassador the past three years. Now, with the involvement of American Express, Mickelson said the PGA TOUR asked that he and his foundation take on a bigger role.
“My wife, Amy, and I, we’ve decided this is the right fit, and we want to have a more direct involvement with the charitable support and donation here in the valley,” Mickelson said.
The hope is that Mickelson will bring stability and credibility to the event, which had its total purse raised $800,000 to $6.7 million, not to mention added clout to attract more top players.
This year’s event will be played Jan. 16-19, with the winner receiving $1.2 million. The 156-person amateur field includes a mix of celebrities and business leaders, who pay $30,000 to play in the three-day pro-am competition.
“I have a list of CEOs that are coming out; it’s such an exclusive list,” Mickelson said in an interview with KESQ-TV in Palm Springs. “These are the people who have a direct impact on the game of golf and also have a relationship with many of the players. This is a chance for the players and those individuals to build their relationship. So, we’re going to utilize this tournament as a way to strengthen those relationships but also increase our field in the process.”
The American Express is the third event of the year, played after the two PGA TOUR stops in Hawaii, one of which is the winners-only tournament on Maui. It’s played a week before the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines outside San Diego. Mickelson said the “ideal conditions” in Palm Springs are another draw for pros looking to begin their season in strong fashion.
“It’s the place to build a foundation for your golf game going forward, rather than going to Hawaii and try to start in the wind,” Mickelson said.
“The word’s getting out slowly that this is the place to start the year because we have perfect practice facilities and a wonderful golf course,” he added.
Spoken like a true tournament host.