It used to be, back before guys like Lee Westwood had so many sponsors that they looked like a NASCAR racer, back before there was any real money in golf, that tournaments were named for places or organizations. The Los Angeles Open. The Texas Open. The Western Open. And many others.
The L.A. Open dates to 1926, when it was won by Harry Cooper. The Texas Open started four years earlier, in 1922, and Bob MacDonald won with Cyril Walker coming in second.
Outside of the U.S. Open, the Western Open is the oldest men’s professional event in the US. It was first played in 1899, won by Willie Smith in a playoff over Laurie Auchterlonie. It was two rounds and took a hiatus for a year before returning in 1901.
The Augusta National Invitation, which began in 1934, was a long name for its day. Today we know it as The Masters.
Some people are so enamored with this era that they cannot stand the idea that a tournament should have a real purse or, apparently, that golf should be played for real money.That’s not realistic in the time of naming rights for stadiums or football fields.
Sports have always been about money at some level, whether it was professionals playing for the clubs and members that sponsored them or whether it was the local Jaycees or other civic booster clubs.
To gain the attention of the media, after place names and organization names were the titles for tournaments, a few celebrities got involved and that produced one of the longest and most enduring tournaments in golf, which is still played today: the Bing Crosby Professional Amateur Golf Championship which started in 1937 and was won by Sam Snead in its inaugural year.
But it was after the PGA Tour split from the PGA of America in 1968 and started wooing corporate sponsors in earnest, back in the 1970s, that names took on an amazing life of their own.
First there was the addition of the celebrity tournaments. For instance, the Dean Martin Tucson Open morphed into the Joe Garagiola Tucson Open and finally the Seiko-Tucson Match Play Championships before becoming the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
Now, love them or hate them, golf owes a debt to the celebrities who agreed to associate with tournaments because having the celebrities guaranteed television interest. Television helped the PGA Tour sell sponsors on golf.
Two celebrities with the longest tournament names were Sammy Davis Jr. (Hartford) and Andy Williams (San Diego). Sammy Davis’ tournament became the Canon Sammy Davis, Jr., Greater Hartford Open before nearly falling off the planet, to be rescued by Travelers, the current sponsor of the event.
The San Diego Open was the Andy Williams San Diego Open Invitational before it was the Wickes Andy Williams San Diego Open and the Isuzu Andy Williams San Diego Open Invitational, eventually becoming the Shearson Lehman Brothers Andy Williams Open and the Shearson Lehman Hutton Andy Williams Open before—mercifully—finding Buick and a shorter name, the Buick Invitational.
On the east coast, who can forget Jackie Gleason’s Inverrary National Airlines Classic which had a celebrity name, a club name and a sponsor name in the title? A title trifecta.
And you can probably win a trivia contest by knowing this one: the Ed McMahon-Jaycees Quad City Open. As in which celebrities alive today were at one time sponsors of golf tournaments? (McMahon, Garagiola, Williams, Glen Campbell—although with Alzheimer’s).
Soon celebrities left the scene or died, and corporations took over, but that helped raise more money for purses. The Panasonic Las Vegas Pro-Celebrity Classic was the first tournament to have a $1 million purse. The Doral Ryder Open followed suit.
Because purses got bigger, title sponsors wanted the limelight they deserved. Ed McMahon-Jaycees Quad City Open became Miller High Life Quad Cities Open.
Through PGA Tour history, there have been some titles that are so long that they are more likely to be tongue twisters than easy ones to say. The top two all time are: Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open and the National Car Rental Classic at Walt Disney World Resort,
Top ten long names of PGA Tour events:
1. National Car Rental Classic at Walt Disney World Resort
2. Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open
3. Bing Crosby Professional Amateur Golf Championship
4. Jackie Gleason’s Inverrary National Airlines Classic
5 .Anderson Consulting World Championship of Golf
6. Shearson Lehman Brothers Andy Williams Open
7. Canon Sammy Davis Jr. Greater Hartford Open
8. Shearson Lehman Hutton Andy Williams Open
9. Walt Disney World Oldsmobile Golf Classic
10. Manufacturers Hanover Westchester Classic
With honorable mention to:
11. Sieko Tucson Match Play Championships
12. Isuzu Andy Williams San Diego Open
13. Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial
14. Lincoln-Mercury Kapalua International
15. AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am
15. Greater New Orleans Open Invitational
17. Georgia Pacific Atlanta Golf Classic
18. Independent Insurance Agent Open
19. Infiniti Tournament of Champions
20. MONY Tournament of Champions