LA QUINTA, Calif. -- The 52nd Bob Hope Classic began Wednesday beneath clear skies and a dark cloud that continues to haunt it, a tournament without a title sponsor and, one could be led to surmise, a future.
This is the second straight year it's been played without a title sponsor, an unsustainable trend. Maybe more alarming on a tour that places so much importance on charity is that the Hope cut its annual charitable contribution by a third this year. Typically it donated $1.5 million annually, $1 million of it going to the Eisenhower Medical Center, to which it has now contributed $33.5 million. This year, it reduced its contribution to the center to $500,000.
Meanwhile, the golf world's attention largely has been diverted elsewhere, to the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship, with a substantially stronger field that includes Lee Westwood and Phil Mickelson and six of the top 10 players in the world. The highest ranked player in the Bob Hope Classic is Matt Kuchar, at 13th, its only entrant from the top 25.
Among those not playing the Hope, for the second consecutive year, is La Quinta High graduate Anthony Kim, who was widely criticized a year ago for opting to play in Abu Dhabi rather than his hometown tournament that in 2007 gave him a sponsor's exemption.
"Unfortunately I couldn't be at the Bob Hope," he said then. "I really wish I was there. [Abu Dhabi] is such a great tournament, and I didn't want to pass up the opportunity. I've always wanted to come to this part of the world, and I feel lucky to be here right now."
The man who really wished he was at the Hope last year could have played this year; he is not at Abu Dhabi. One Internet report, in fact, placed him in La Quinta this week, though not for the tournament.
Equally curious is that former Hope champion Kenny Perry is back after opting out last year, when he told the Arizona Republic this: "I used to play the Hope, but it has changed. Used to be, you played the desert courses like Indian Wells and Bermuda Dunes. They've completely left the desert out, and now it's all big, long, 7,600-yard courses. They've really changed the complexion of that tournament, which I don't like."
The Hope, once a marquee PGA Tour event, indeed has changed, a point that continues to be reiterated on an annual basis, to the extent that one has to wonder whether it might soon be striking up the band for a final rendition of the old Bob Hope standard, "Thanks for the Memory."
-- John Strege