Since Bob Hope put his name on the desert’s PGA Tour event in 1965, the golf tournament now known as The American Express has seen just eight years in which someone wasn’t serving as tournament host.
But when The American Express is played this week for the 64th time, it will be played without a comedian or a politician or a PGA Tour player as official host of the $8 million tournament.
That’s just one of the changes golf fans will notice when the tournament tees off Thursday at three courses in La Quinta. From the absence of a host to a new hosting committee to new food and beverage options from small businesses based in the Coachella Valley, The American Express has updated and adapted tournament operations from 12 months ago. Some of those changes were out of the hands of local tournament officials, like the loss of the tournament host, World Golf Hall of Famer Phil Mickelson.
“As far as an official tour player that is hosting the event, we don’t (have one),” said Pat McCabe, executive director of The American Express. “But most events on the PGA Tour do not as well.”
Mickelson won the tournament in 2002 and 2004 and became the official host in 2020. But Mickelson was dismissed from the local tournament last February after comments he made about the PGA Tour and the new rival LIV golf tour. Mickelson has since signed with the LIV tour and is suspended from the PGA Tour indefinitely.
Hope, widely considered the greatest celebrity host of any PGA Tour event along with his friend Bing Crosby in Pebble Beach, hosted the desert tournament from 1965 until his death in 2003. Hope would usually play in the event with top PGA Tour players, celebrities and politicians and do some broadcasting of the event for NBC.
After three years without a host, the tournament added comedian George Lopez as the face of the tournament in 2007 and 2008. Lopez lasted just two years as host, with five-time tournament winner Arnold Palmer taking over for one year in 2009.
Two more years without a host were followed in 2012 by former President Bill Clinton taking over the role. Clinton’s era ended after 2016, and Mickelson, who had been linked to the tournament as an ambassador for other players, became the tournament host in 2020.
When Mickelson was dropped from the tournament, so too was the Mickelson Foundation, which had been founded specifically to serve as the host organization and charitable arm of the tournament. The Mickelson Foundation had replaced long-time tournament host organization Desert Classic Charities. With the Mickelson Foundation out, The American Express needed a new host organization, and that came last summer with the Impact Through Golf Foundation.
“We have some board members, obviously Frank Marzano, who is our board president, who have made the transition, and we filed the articles of incorporation to change the name and filed as such under Impact Through Golf Foundation,” said La Quinta Mayor Linda Evans, a member of the foundation. “We have added some new board members who will provide significant contribution to expanding the capacity of sponsorships, player recognition for this PGA Tour event.”
“It is a great collection of men and woman who are on that board of directors,” McCabe said. “We’ve got a variety of different people that sit on it, and they are just there to help with the tournament and to again help contribute their ideas and thoughts and resources to the tournament and then collaborate together again with AmEx to select the charitable organization that receive the funds.”
In November the tournament and Impact Through Golf donated $1 million to 30 local charities. McCabe said it is the local aspect of the charities that is important to sponsor American Express, but that the global financial company is helping bring local business to the tournament as well.
“They are focused on premium event experiences for all of the spectators and their card members,” McCabe said of American Express, which is signed on to the tournament through 2028. “It is their continual focus on local, and with local comes local charities, but also comes local small businesses. You will see it this year at the tournament where we’ll have some local food and beverage offerings for all of our pro-am players out on the golf course.”
That will include a new fan gathering area, called The Turn, between the first tee and ninth green on the Pete Dye Stadium Course at PGA West. In that area, which includes the return of the Patriot Outpost for military personnel, food will be provided by Cheeky’s restaurant in Palm Springs.
Other Coachella Valley businesses offering food and beverages at the tournament will include Tutu’s Tortilla Chips of La Quinta, Chef Tanya’s restaurant of Palm Springs, Shield Date Garden of Indio, Tiffany’s Sweet Spot of La Quinta, Brandini Toffee of Palm Springs, On the Mark Fine Foods of Palm Springs, Fresh Juice Bar of La Quinta and TKB Bakery and Deli of Indio.
“It’s really just their commitment to small business, their commitment to local is what is second to none,” McCabe said of American Express. “And keeping the (charitable) funds in the valley is very important to them as well.”