HUMBLE, Texas -- Houston is a golf town. So much of the game's history was forged here, lives here and thrives here. Lots of pro golfers call Houston home, and besides towns like Orlando, Jupiter and Scottsdale, there aren't many places that could claim more tour-card holders.
Why then does the Houston Open, one of the longest-running PGA Tour events, lack a title sponsor?
It's a befuddling question as the Houston Golf Association digs deep into reserve funds they really don't want to spend to present this 2018 edition without the help of one of the 25 or so Fortune 500 companies headquartered in the nation's fourth-largest city. Shell told the HGA in 2016 it would be walking away as sponsor the next year after a 26-year run, making the relationship one of the longest in PGA Tour history. At the time, it didn't seem like finding a new namesake for the Houston Open would be a problem. The PGA Tour was adding events to its schedule, and the sponsor market seemed strong. The Houston Open's field was solid for the week before the Masters, with the HGA's setup efforts to mimic Augusta National conditions paying off in annual commitments from Masters mainstays who prefer to play their way into a major.
This year, however, the Houston Open's field strength is the lowest in a decade. No matter what happens on the sponsorship front, the PGA Tour appears poised to move the Valero Texas Open, which has a 10-year deal in hand with oil giant Valero in San Antonio, to that pre-Masters slot. The Associated Press reported this week the Houston Open would move to the week before the US Open if it remains on the schedule. That seems a big if at this point. Without a title sponsor or some kind of consortium like the one that kept Colonial alive in Ft. Worth, this Texas event could be saying goodbye at a time where the golf sponsor market suddenly doesn't seem as strong as it did even 12 months ago.
How can two tournaments which began in the aftermath of World War II and have survived much worse economies than this steadily-recovering one find themselves on the endangered list?
The Houston Golf Association is hoping the city's recovery from last August's Hurricane Harvey landfall will progress to the point that the city's biggest philanthropic corporations can turn their attention to investing in their tournament as a means of continuing to help the area move forward and show the world they're back on their collective feet. The devastation the storm caused displaced thousands, including those companies capable of writing a high seven-figure check to be the title sponsor. Many of those companies have just moved back into spaces damaged by Harvey's 500-Year flooding.
However, without a date and a purposeful setup to attract better players, can the Houston Golf Association assure a potential new title sponsor of a high-profile field? If the event moves to the week prior the US Open, would the HGA try the same thing, setting up their host course to play as their best guess to what Mike Davis and the USGA will do the following week in the national championship? The HGA would first need a host course before making such a pledge, as the contract with current host Golf Club of Houston runs out this year. There are plenty of great venues in the city and surrounding area to host the event, but could one take on a sprawling PGA Tour event and perhaps do so for the good of the area to reduce the burden on the HGA?
At this point, there are more blanks the answers in the word bank. The Houston Golf Association is doing its best to find a title sponsor for an historic event with tons of local support in a city that oozes golf history. But it shouldn't be this hard, and this tournament deserves better.