CoBank Elects Not to Renew Colorado Open Title Sponsorship

Agreement will conclude after 2020 championships.

By Jon Rizzi

The CoBank Colorado Open Championship is looking for a new title sponsor.

CoBank, one of the largest private providers of credit to the U.S. rural economy, has elected not to renew the five-year agreement that began in 2016 and will end after next year’s championships.

“While we’ve enjoyed being part of the Colorado Opens for the past four years, we decided after careful consideration to move in a different direction following the expiration of our current sponsorship agreement at the end of 2020,” Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications Arthur Hodges said. “We wish them the very best for the future.”

The CoBank Legacy

The announcement will end an eventful period in the 55-year-old event’s history.

CoBank succeeded HealthONE, which had title-sponsored the Colorado Opens for 12 years.

Sam Saunders
2019 CoBank Colorado Open Champion Sam Saunders, the most recent recipient of the $100,000 winner’s check.

The bank’s sponsorship ushered in a new era, with the men’s purse doubling to $250,000 (with a $100,000 winner’s share) in 2016, and the women’s purse similarly jumping to $150,000 (with $50,000 going to the winner).

The increases made these events the richest state opens in the country.

Perhaps more significantly, CoBank helped increase the visibility of the Colorado Opens—the Colorado Open, Colorado Women’s Open and Colorado Senior Open, which support The First Tee of Green Valley Ranch—as a prized community asset.

Matt Kuchar at Green Valley Ranch
Matt Kuchar watches the swing of a student from The First Tee of Green Valley Ranch

In conjunction with the Colorado Open Golf Foundation, The First Tee of Green Valley Ranch, CoBank sponsors the CoBank Kids Exhibitions. The events brought professional golfers Hale Irwin, Paula Creamer, David Duval, Lexi Thompson, Matt Kuchar, Ryan Palmer and Jennifer Kupcho to Green Valley Ranch and Mark O’Meara to The Broadmoor to inspire The First Tee participants with their talents and words about integrity, respect and perseverance.

Lexi Thompson at GVR
Lexi Thompson at The First Tee of Green Valley Ranch (photograph by Kim McHugh).

In conjunction with the First Tee of Green Valley Ranch and The Broadmoor, CoBank in 2018 also sponsored the inaugural PEAK Performers Series, a nationwide First Tee event featuring Annika Sorenstam at The Broadmoor in which Nine First Tee kids (ages 14-18) from across the country got to meet and play with the female golfer with the most professional wins in history.

“CoBank was very happy how their money was spent,” Kevin Laura, the CEO of The First Tee of Green Valley Ranch and the CoBank Colorado Opens, said. “It became more of a community asset than a sports sponsorship asset.”

Laura indicated that the bank, which had previously sponsored some of the Colorado Open pro-ams, remains “interested in staying involved in some capacity.”

Finding a Replacement

“CoBank certainly raised the bar, and we have no intention of downshifting,” Laura said when asked about the package he’ll present to prospective sponsors.

“We’re looking at the financial services, banking and health and wellness sectors,” he said. “The perfect fit is a company that’s looking to build or establish its brand as a leader in its category and in the community, a company that supports teaching kids the core values that are associated with The First Tee.”

CoBank was such a company, as was HealthONE before it. But, according to Laura, “advocacy is the biggest part.” CoBank CEO Bob Engel was the main advocate of the sponsorship, as was HealthONE CEO Jeff Dorsey. “They saw the value.” When both executives left their companies (Engel in 2017, Dorsey in 2012), the sponsorship and marketing strategies got reevaluated.

“Denver has a number of candidates” for title sponsors. Laura allowed. “We’re looking at business-to-business and business-to-consumer companies. The value proposition is most definitely there.”

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