The Kemper Insurance Cos. of Chicago has withdrawn as the title sponsor of the Kemper Open, Washington's PGA Tour event since 1980, because of economic reasons.
The tournament will continue as scheduled June 5-8 at TPC at Avenel in Potomac, its home since 1987, and in the future in the Washington area. This year's event will be called the Capital Open. It will be jointly operated this year by the tour and Kemper Sports Management, a Chicago-based marketing and golf course management firm owned by Steve Lesnik and named for his partner and late insurance company owner, James F. Kemper Jr., who died July 2 at age 88.
Sources said Kemper's cost for last year's event was close to $5 million. In December, Kemper Insurance had signed a four-year contract to sponsor the tournament. But in recent months, the company has been burdened by financial problems and has been selling off its insurance coverage lines and stopped virtually all underwriting activity. The company is retooling itself as an insurance services provider.
"Given our current situation, we've chosen to focus on other issues involving the company," said Linda Kingman, a spokeswoman for Kemper. "We've sold off some of our other businesses. Certainly the conditions in our industry have affected us. There are a number of issues involved."
The insurance company was believed to be the oldest active title sponsor in professional golf, having its name associated with the tournament since it was first played in the Boston area in 1968. It moved to North Carolina in 1969, then relocated to Congressional in Bethesda in 1980 before moving to Avenel.
Lesnik said the tournament will remain in the Washington area but also said it could be played at another site as well as Avenel, including a new, Greg Norman-designed course under construction at Lansdowne Resort near Leesburg. He also indicated that discussions are underway with several local companies that he declined to name about becoming the tournament's title sponsor.
"After being involved for so long, yes, it's a sad day," Lesnik said in a telephone interview. "But it is also the dawn of a new era. It is the opportunity to make the tournament even bigger and even greater than before."
In the last few years, the PGA and LPGA have lost title sponsors because of the slumping economy. Because Kemper pulled out so close to this year's tournament, Lesnik said there was no time to find a new sponsor.
The 2003 event will have a record $4.5 million purse and the winner will earn $900,000. The event is being played a week before the U.S. Open at Olympia Fields near Chicago and already has a commitment to play from Phil Mickelson and PGA champion Rich Beem, who won for the first time here three years ago. A large foreign contingent, including Ryder Cup star Pradraig Harrington, also is expected.
At tournament headquarters at Avenel yesterday, they were still answering the phone "Kemper Open."
But chairman of the board Ben Brundred said that would change immediately. He added that it could cost $100,000 to change the logo to read Capital Open and organizers "will do as much of that as we can."