PALM HARBOR — Valspar Corporation officially announced Wednesday morning that it has extended its title sponsorship of the PGA Tour event at Innisbrook through 2020. The original four-year agreement, said to be in the $7 million per year range, was set to expire after 2017.
The three-year extension marks the first time a title sponsor has extended since the tournament became a PGA Tour event in 2000. The deal between Valspar and the PGA Tour was finalized two weeks ago, Valspar chairman and CEO Gary Hendrickson said.
"We thought that being associated with the other exceptional companies that are sponsors on the PGA Tour would only enhance our brand," Hendrickson said. "…We have certainly seen a very positive return for our shareholders. That's what we hoped when we signed our agreement and that's what has proven out."
The extension provides some security for a tournament that has been in limbo more than once. Past sponsors include Buick, Chrysler, PODS and Transitions. In 2007 when PODS swooped in, it announced it would not be able to continue sponsorship for the 2009 tournament. After an exhaustive search, Pinellas Park-based Transitions took over for four years.
Transitions did not renew, and the 2013 tournament was known only as the Tampa Bay Championship. Just months before the deadline to find a sponsor, Valspar signed up to take over in 2014.
Perhaps no person was more relieved than Innisbrook Spa and Resort owner Sheila Johnson.
"I was concerned after enhancing the course, and all the money and work we put into it, that we also have a (PGA tournament) future here," Johnson said. "I found out about two days ago and it was hard for me to keep my mouth shut. You have no idea what a relief this is."
There are no plans to move the tournament from its March date, according to PGA Tour deputy commissioner Jay Monahan. Monahan added that he knew Valspar was the right fit from the beginning.
Time to play golf: Graeme McDowell decided this season that he would refocus on golf. McDowell, the 2010 U.S. Open champion, wasn't feeling too good about his game last season. He had only one top-10 finish in 15 PGA tournaments and only two top 25s.
McDowell, who is originally from Northern Ireland but now lives in Orlando, has added tournaments to his 2016 schedule — including the Valspar. This tournament is the third of five straight before he takes a week off prior to the Masters.
"This is probably the only one that I would've thrown out again but I really wanted to come and play this tournament," McDowell said. "I just decided to play some golf. I'm playing a lot of golf right now. I'm looking forward to it. Last year I think I was feeling frustrated and panicking a little bit. This year I'm actually enjoying being on the golf course again."
He played Copperhead before the Honda Classic two weeks ago.
"I heard a lot of players talk to me about this event," McDowell said. "They were just telling me how good the golf course is. I like the way it sets up."
Seeing green: Defending Valspar champion Jordan Spieth said he is traveling with his Green Jacket, which is given to the Masters Champion. "You sit there and you're like, 'I don't want that thing to go away.' " Spieth said. "It was fun having it with me this year. I don't want it to stay on the (Augusta National) grounds."
Today: The first groups go off at 6:50 a.m. The second wave tees off at 11:40. After the first round, Rascal Flatts will perform a concert at 7 p.m. Admission to the concert is free with a daily ticket.