With new non-profit charitable foundation, The American Express looks toward 2023 golf tourney

Fans returned to the gallery at the 2022 American Express after fans and the pro-am were not part of the 2021 tournament in La Quinta.
Fans returned to the gallery at the 2022 American Express after fans and the pro-am were not part of the 2021 tournament in La Quinta.

Ever since the PGA Tour announced in February that Phil Mickelson would not return as host of The American Express, the desert’s PGA Tour event has been missing a required piece.

Mickelson saw his three-year run as official host of the tournament end in February after fallout from his flirtation with the rival LIV tour and Mickelson’s comments about why he was dealing with people even he considered “scary” in the Saudi Arabian-backed tour. Since then, Mickelson and other PGA Tour players who played in the first LIV event in London earlier this month have been suspended by PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan.

When Mickelson was shown the door, the PGA Tour also ended its three-year relationship with the Mickelson Foundation. That foundation was organized specifically to be the host organization and to serve as the charitable arm for the local PGA Tour event. Many people on that board had strong ties to Mickelson, so it made sense to end both relationships at the same time.

Now, nearly four months later, the PGA Tour and officials of The American Express say their new non-profit host organization is in place, although it still doesn’t have an officially approved name. The message is that despite the turmoil of the end of the relationship with Mickelson, plans for the 2023 tournament are underway and things shouldn’t be much different from the 2022 event.

“We are just going to concentrate on improving the tournament experience for all the constituents and most importantly, since AmEx took the reins of this, is the tradition of the (charity) money is going to stay local,” said tournament executive director Pat McCabe. “That’s the biggest thing, is that the dollars raised from this new host organization will stay locally in the community, in the Coachella Valley.”

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McCabe works for Sportfive, the organization that has handled the desert tournament's operations since 2018. That relationship will continue into 2023 and beyond with the advent of the new host organization, in part because both American Express and the PGA Tour have liked the operations and the consistency Sportfive has brought to the tournament.

Like the Mickelson Foundation, the new foundation has been organized for a single purpose, to be the vehicle that distributes charitable funds raised by The American Express to organizations in the Coachella Valley.

Charity money for the desert

"The goal is still to raise money from the tournament and the proceeds will benefit local charities," said Linda Evans, the mayor of La Quinta and a member of both the Mickelson Foundation and the new tournament non-profit. "What you will see that has changed is as we announce the new name we will have some new board members that have joined us to replace some people who are no longer with us for obvious reasons. And we are going to add more local representations so it won’t be just kind of me and one or two others."

Both McCabe and Evans said while the kinds of charities that receive donations in the desert won't change, a few charities might be elevated to a more prominent status with the tournament.

“There are some folks from American Express who are helping us select the organizations (receiving funds) to keep that alignment intact,” McCabe said. “So there is a focus on health and wellness, families, youth sports, education, homelessness. By all means, we would intend to do that again.”

"Some of the charities get $25,000 and some only ask for $5,000," Evans said. "But we may identify one or two charities that would be more long-term efforts, maybe things like schools of the First Tee, if there is an expansion at a Boys or Girls Club. We could really sink some strong money in while still helping other organizations."

Evans added that some members of the new board might concentrate on specific aspects of the tournament, such as attracting pro-am players or working on tournament promotion throughout the year or engaging with some charities year-round. As the tournament grows, something that was helped by American Express extending its sponsorship to 2028, McCabe and Evans sad they are confident the charity money will grow beyond the $1.1 million provided by American Express from the 2021 event that was played without fans because of COVID-19 restrictions.

For the fans coming to the tournament in La Quinta next January or watching on television across the country, the impact of the new host organization won’t be felt at all, McCabe said. The tournament should look and feel the same, even if there is no familiar face hosting the tournament, something that has been a tournament tradition almost every year since Bob Hope put his name on the event in 1965.

“The three-day pro-am is 100 percent coming back,” McCabe said. “We will be utilizing the Stadium Course and the Nicklaus Course (at PGA West), and we will also be playing La Quinta Country Club for now its 51st year.  We have had discussions with them and they are excited to have us back. La Quinta Resort will be the host hotel again.”

Tournament officials hope that means another strong field for the professional side. Last January, 15 of the top 50 players in the world rankings played in La Quinta. That included then-No. 1 Jon Rahm, current No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and 2021 FedEx Cup champion Patrick Cantlay, still three of the top four players in the world. Will Zalatoris, who lost a playoff at the PGA Championship in May, was also in the field, as were past No. 1 Justin Rose and Mickelson, who won the 2021 PGA Championship.

Hudson Swafford won the 2022 tournament, but his decision to play on the LIV tour has led to his suspension from the tour, so it is uncertain if he will defend his desert title in 2023.

2022 champion Hudson Swafford poses with his wife, Katherine, and their 3-year-old son James with his new trophy after winning The American Express at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022.
2022 champion Hudson Swafford poses with his wife, Katherine, and their 3-year-old son James with his new trophy after winning The American Express at PGA West in La Quinta, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 23, 2022.

So the tournament now has a vehicle to distribute proceeds from 2022 – in 2021 the donations totaled $1.1 million – and the same operational arm that welcomed fans and the pro-am back last January.

“As far as the golf tournament is concerned and golf fans, local desert folks, you won’t recognize a lot of changes if any,” McCabe said.

This article originally appeared on Palm Springs Desert Sun: American Express golf tourney event adds new non-profit organization