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And here is the real reason professional golf has to quit being such a whipping boy for those frustrated by the financial crisis: The Northern Trust Open has generated $3 million for charity the two years the bank has run the tournament. And since its inception in 1926, the L.A. stop on the PGA Tour has donated more than $50 million to charity.
And that is only part of the picture. Last year, the PGA Tour raised a record $124 million for charity, despite an economy that was already grinding to a halt. Since 1938, the tour has raised more than $1.2 billion for charity. Correct me if I'm wrong, but did I miss the story about how much those companies that spent all that money on Super Bowl ads donated to charity?
Were there parties associated with the Northern Trust Open? Absolutely. Were they excessive? Their cost efficiency will only be assessed over time, but the fact is that marketing around golf tournaments is extremely effective -- otherwise major corporations would not have been doing it for more than 70 years.
Morgan Stanley, another recipient of bailout money, will continue as a presenting sponsor of the Memorial Tournament later this year, but, conscious of the way Northern Trust has been hammered, has said it will cut back on entertaining at the event. Again, only time will tell whether or not that is a wise decision. While it might look better to Frank and Dowd, it might actually hurt business for Morgan Stanley.
This much can be safely said: In their attacks on Northern Trust both Frank and Dowd have taken an extremely narrow look at the big picture. Any parties or concerts that occurred have to be viewed within the larger context of the positive impact the tournament had on charity, on marketing for the bank and on the local economy.
What would the impact on the economy of San Diego be if the Buick Invitational went away, or on the Flint, Mich., area be if the Buick Open disappeared? How about Columbus, Ohio, if the Memorial did not exist? We are talking tens of millions of dollars poured into the local economy every year by these events. That's bigger than any Sheryl Crow concert.
That there is much reform needed in the U.S. economy seems to be indisputable. The business practices of the financial services industry, in particular, need serious scrutiny. No one can argue with that. But the scope of the problem extends well beyond professional golf tournaments and entertaining at those events. To rip golf is an ill-informed, easy way out -- a smokescreen retarding real reform.
What seems to be happening is that golf has become a convenient scapegoat for frustrated pundits and politicians who rely on the fact that an ill-informed public can be manipulated. Golf is not the enemy here, nor is the PGA Tour. The sport, in fact, is an extremely effective and cost-efficient marketing tool.
The PGA Tour Northern Trust Open has generated much-needed revenue for Los Angles, contributed millions in charitable dollars for the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce, which funds community service projects and scholarship programs, and has provided a successful marketing platform for the Northern Trust. Seems like a win-win-win situation -- unless, like Frank and Dowd, you only look at part of the story.