Four decades ago, when the Happiest Place on Earth was still a Florida swamp, Walt Disney personally circled his troops and decreed that when Disney World formally opened its gates, he wanted to host a PGA Tour event.
Lo and behold, when the park opened in 1971, the turnstiles for the resort's first golf tournament hummed too, with legendary Jack Nicklaus winning the first three Disney titles in succession in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Given the history, old Walt would be pleased to know that one of the oldest continuously staged tournaments on the circuit will continue, since the event's tenuous sponsorship status has all but been resolved after a year of uncertainty.
After months of fruitlessly searching for a new title sponsor, Disney is ironing out the details and paperwork with an unnamed company to take over as the event namesake, effective immediately. Had Disney not found a sponsor, the event was faced with the possibility of folding after the tournament concluded its 36th incarnation on Nov. 1-4.
"You never know, because it's never done until it's done, but we're feeling good about it," said Henry Hughes, the tour's chief of operations.
A contract is expected to be finalized within the next few weeks, Hughes predicted. Past winners of the event include stars and Hall of Famers such as Nicklaus, Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Raymond Floyd, Larry Nelson, Payne Stewart and David Duval.
Disney has gone through a succession of sponsors in the recent past, and because of the increasingly volatile corporate climate on tour, twice has staged the tournament this decade with no sponsor input financially. National Car Rental filed for bankruptcy before its contract ran its course. Japanese electronics manufacturer Funai declined to renew its deal after it expired with the completion of the 2006 tournament.
The new Disney pact would take effect this year and ideally will run through 2012, the full extent of the current television contract cycle, Hughes said.
In light of the fact that the new FedEx Cup series has rendered the fall portion of the schedule less relevant, and since none of the fall events are on free network television as in the past, it's been a hard sell for some tournaments seeking to secure corporate sponsorship.
Disney tournament director Kevin Weickel did not return a phone call seeking comment.