PALM HARBOR — Transitions Optical, Inc. managing director Dave Cole figured the timing was right for his company to take over title sponsorship of the PGA tournament at Innisbrook's Copperhead Course. The company, which produces photochromic lenses that adjust to light, was looking for a way to globally market its product after starting as a small, local company off Belcher Road in Pinellas Park in 1990.
Innisbrook, on the other hand, was desperately in need of a corporate sponsor after PODS exercised its option to withdraw two years into a six-year deal. After a five-month courtship, the PGA Tour, the Copperheads (formerly known as Suncoast Golf, Inc.) and Transitions Optical announced an official agreement Wednesday on a four-year sponsorship at close to $7-million per year.
The tournament, March 16-22, will be called the Transitions Championship.
"When this opened up we had already been looking at opportunities to extend our brand beyond consumer advertising,'' Cole said. "The stars aligned for us. We're local, Copperhead is one of the best courses on tour, we have the association with the PGA. We said we have to look at it. Now is the time.''
Transitions, which has offices worldwide, is the third sponsor since the event joined the PGA Tour in 2000. "We have not built in an option in the contract for an early exit,'' said Transitions president Brett Craig, whose company is bound for at least four years.
Before the 2008 PODS Championship, when it was announced the company would end its sponsorship, the Copperheads began their search with a deadline set by the PGA Tour of April 30.
When Transitions emerged, it ended months of stress at Innisbrook.
"It is a huge relief,'' Copperheads general chairman Peter Jones said. "To lose this event would've been a sad day. There was a lot of angst and a lot of doubt. We were running up to our deadline.''
Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said: "When we were in this position of debating how we were going to deal with not having a title sponsor here, we were pushed pretty hard by players and our television partner. NBC did not want to lose this market. The players didn't want to lose having the Copperhead on the tour.''
And Innisbrook owner Sheila Johnson certainly didn't want to lose the tournament less than a year after she bought the resort.
"When I first bought Innisbrook and I knew PODS was going to be an issue, I was a little terrified,'' she said. "I did not want to lose the tournament here. I made it my mission to make sure that we brought on another sponsor. It's important to everyone around here. It's big.''
Now if she can just lure Tiger Woods, it would be even bigger.
"Tiger, if you're listening to this, we would love to have you,'' Johnson said.
Rodney Page can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8810.