Outsourced - Disney's Exit from the Golf Business

Those of you that stop by The World of Deej often are accustomed to finding reviews on hotels, restaurants, and travel in general. And while this space is usually not reserved for sounding off on recent headlines, today I have to make an exception. Warning: rant to follow.

The news came down yesterday that Walt Disney World is teaming up with Arnold Palmer in a partnership that will see the King's golf management company take over operation of Disney's 5 remaining golf courses. In a nutshell, golf has been outsourced at Disney, and I'm not too happy about it.

Since it's open in 1971, golf has had a sizable presence at Walt Disney World. The PGA Tour has hosted an event at the resort since that great year, and shortly thereafter The Golf Resort, later known as the Disney Inn, was opened. Fast forward to the early 1990's, and the golf presence at Disney was expanded to include two more courses, designed by legends Tom Fazio and Pete Dye. These were the glory days of golf at Disney, and sadly, they were numbered...

Somewhere around the early 1990's, someone at Team Disney decided that golf was just no longer a priority. The changes that occurred as a result were slow to take hold, but over the last 15 years there has been a gradual erosion of Disney's commitment to one of the resort's original businesses.

It started with the sale of the Disney Inn to the Department of Defense which established the resort as an R&R for our military personnel. OK, so The Disney Inn was not everyone's favorite place to stay, just my own, so it made more sense to offload it to someone that could keep it full...I can live with that.

Next came the gradual downfall of the PGA Tour stop at Disney. Sponsorship problems, lack of TV deal, poor place on the schedule, and finally, relegation to the Tour's Fall Series, have turned a tournament once won by Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods into a glorified Nationwide Tour event.

About the same time their PGA Tour stop became all but forgotten, the Disney brass decided to sell their Eagle Pines course to Four Seasons Hotels, so that yet another outsider can operate a resort on property. As part of the deal, the Osprey Ridge course would also be divested from Disney once the resort is complete...that is if it ever is complete. The resort was started in 2008, just before the financial world caved in, and to date is nothing more than a giant plowed under piece of land where a great golf course once called home.

Now, to complete the exit from the golf business, Team Disney has handed the keys to the pro shop to Arnold Palmer. The King will lease the course from Disney for an undisclosed sum and portion of the revenues, and thereby take all financial responsibility for the courses from Disney.

These changes are all sad to me, with my family's long connections to golf at Disney, but the more I've thought on it, they were all inevitable. The "lease, license, and outsource" model has been Disney's approach for quite a while now, so it comes as no surprise that golf was eventually sucked in. Golf is a lousy business, so I certainly can't blame Disney for deciding it's better to skim a portion of revenue, rather than run the actual business. But I still find it sad that a business that has played a part of the resort since it's opening day is essentially no more.

The initial frustration of this decision left me asking many questions. If they're willing to outsource golf, what's next...Hotels? Restaurants? Why can't Disney invest in their courses to make them world class? Why couldn't they sponsor their own PGA Tour stop, rather than search for outsiders year after year? Why was the tour event allowed to go without a TV deal, when it's hosted by the company who owns ESPN and ABC? The answer it seems is clear....Money. Disney is a business, I'm a shareholder, and apparently this decision and others like it are better for me. It just doesn't feel that way....

Will we one day see "Arnold Palmer's Magnolia at Walt Disney World," or perhaps "Arnold Palmer's Disney Golf Classic presented by GoDaddy.com?" It's possible...but my sincere hope is that this change is a positive one for Disney golf. The courses need to be enhanced, the tournament needs promotion, and of course, people need a reason to choose to play there. Perhaps it's Mr. Palmer that can turn around a ship that Disney has left adrift for over a decade.

~Insert Dude-like Closing Here~