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Monday, December 4, 2006
American Express is first corporate partner for USGA

Associated Press

Sponsorship finally reached one of the oldest sports organizations in the country, with the U.S. Golf Association announcing a multiyear deal Monday that will make American Express its first corporate partner.

"This is new ground for us," USGA executive director David Fay said. "We hope this is the beginning of a long relationship with Amex. For some of those elements of the USGA that don't get much publicity, we hope this relationship helps us. And we'll do our part to provide Amex with some benefits for its members."

One of those benefits will be tickets to the U.S. Open. American Express plans to run advertisements this week showing Tiger Woods and the U.S. Open trophy, offering card members who belong to its rewards program a chance to purchase Trophy Club tickets to the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont, which already is sold out.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

American Express had been the title sponsor of a World Golf Championship the past eight years, a relationship that ended two months ago in London when Woods won the event for the fifth time.

And while Woods has not signed an extension of his deal with American Express, the world's No. 1 player made a series of phone calls last week to talk about the USGA's first corporate partner in its 112-year history.

"It's a tremendous opportunity," Woods said. "This is two enormous brands coming together to help golf."

That doesn't mean it will be the "American Express U.S. Open," or that the company will take on a stronger presence across Oakmont, Torrey Pines, Bethpage or any of the other U.S. Open venues.

Officials said U.S. Open fans likely won't notice the partnership while watching the tournament.

"We're not going to be slapping logos all over the place," said Jud Linville, president of the U.S. Consumer Card Services Group at Amex. "We're trying to broaden the appeal of the game."

The USGA was founded in 1894 and is the governing body of golf in the United States and Mexico. Along with running 13 championships each year, it writes and interprets the Rules of Golf and funds such things as turf grass research and golf course maintenance. It recently hired Barry Hyde as its chief marketing officer to arrange corporate partners, much like Royal Bank of Scotland's longtime sponsorship of the British Open.

"We believe this partnership will allow us to reach more golfers and make them more aware of our many programs that benefit their golf game," USGA president Walter Driver said.

The U.S. Open has been a sellout every year since 1988. It will be played June 14-17 at Oakmont outside Pittsburgh, where Jack Nicklaus won his first U.S. Open in 1962 in a playoff over Arnold Palmer, and where Johnny Miller won in 1973 with a 63 in the final round.

Fay did not say how many Trophy Club tickets would be available to American Express.

Linville said the company also would make tickets and packages available to its card members for other USGA events, such as the U.S. Women's Open at Pine Needles and the U.S. Amateur, to be played next year at The Olympic Club in San Francisco.