Event lacks a title sponsor
HUNTSVILLE – The Korn Ferry Tour will not stop in Huntsville in 2024, and the tournament’s future beyond that remains in limbo.
Officials of Knight Eady, a full-service event, strategy and creative agency which owned and operated the tournament, confirmed Tuesday the event known first as the Huntsville Championship and then the HomeTown Lenders Championship, is off the Korn Ferry Tour schedule for next year.
Michael Eady, president of Knight Eady, relayed the news during a zoom call with local media.
He cited the lack of a title sponsor for the tournament’s demise. He said HomeTown Lenders, which signed on as the title sponsor a year ago amid much fanfare, failed to fulfill its obligation as the tournament title sponsor. As a result, the PGA Tour, which oversees the Korn Ferry Tour, removed the tournament from the 2024 schedule.
HomeTown Lenders, which was founded locally and played in late April, has faced numerous financial challenges recently. A Google search revealed at least one lawsuit, company-wide layoffs and numerous claims of employees not being paid in recent months.
An email requesting a statement from HomeTown Lenders went unreturned and the phone number on the company website was no longer in service.
When announced that HomeTown Lenders would be the tournament’s title sponsor, company founder and CEO Billy Taylor said he hoped to “carry on the values that were set the first two years.”
“We can’t wait to see how the partnership grows and how the value systems line up with the Korn Ferry Tour and our company,” he said. “It’s a great day for HomeTown Lenders.”
‘They need a title sponsor’
“At the end of the day, they [the PGA Tour] need a title sponsor and we did not have a title sponsor. We fought like crazy to get there,” Eady said. “We loved the tournament. We’ve seen it grow. Obviously from Knight Eady’s perspective, we are very upset and would have loved to see the tournament continue.”
Eady said Tour officials made the decision not to return to Huntsville in 2024 despite his team’s efforts to secure a new title sponsor. He said it is tough to secure a title sponsor on such short notice due to the “type of investment that the title sponsors are being asked.”
“Ultimately those decisions are out of our hands and out of our control,” Eady said. “Given the state of Hometown Lenders and their inability to fulfill their obligation as the title sponsor, the Tour has decided to remove the tournament from the 2024 schedule.
“Obviously, we are disappointed.”
Played at The Ledges, one of the top golf courses in Alabama, the tournament had a three-year run in Huntsville. It got off to a rocky start when the Covid-19 pandemic shuttered the initial playing. Eady said that was a blow the tournament had finally overcome and support grew. It was played without a title sponsor the first two years with Paul Barjon and Harrison Endycott emerging victorious.
Ben Kohles won the 2023 tournament with Hometown Lenders as the title sponsor and Huntsville was widely considered one of the best stops on Tour.
Door not closed to Korn Ferry return
Eady was reluctant to share details of how things fell apart with HomeTown Lenders, but intimated there were signs early on that something was amiss. He said when sponsor agreements and billing requirements are not met or come in late, “you start to scratch your head and wonder if there is an issue.”
Eady also pointed out the challenges of having an event such as the Korn Ferry Tour in a market the size of Huntsville.
“A lot of these events are not in major markets. They are in similar markets to Huntsville – some a little bigger and sometimes a little smaller – but ultimately local support and title sponsors are what drive these things,” he said. “We had a decent amount of momentum when it came to local suppor,t but without a viable title sponsor it can be very difficult to operate these events and be financially responsible. That is what made the decision ultimately difficult for the Tour.”
Eady said the Tour requests a five-year commitment from title sponsors.
“For medium-sized or local businesses, that is a big thing to bite off,” he said. “That becomes a challenge when you are in these middle-sized communities. You don’t have a bunch of Fortune 500 businesses sitting around who can write those checks. The business side of these events is very cost prohibitive. Having a title sponsor is crucial to the success of an event.”
Eady did not close the door on the Korn Ferry Tour returning to Huntsville in the future, noting that the Tour’s schedule is fluid with tournaments being added and subtracted yearly.
“I don’t think it closes the door necessarily to a tournament coming back to Huntsville,” he said. “If there was a title sponsor willing to step up and make that investment and put their name on the tournament, I don’t think we would be having these same conversations. We still value our relationship with the PGA Tour we have had the past three years and we hope to continue that relationship.”
Gregg Dewalt is the editor of Alabama Golf News
Featured image courtesy of Deposit Photos