A New Era

With new title sponsor on board, Denver-based Inspirato, Colorado Open Championships raise first prize for Colorado Women’s Open to $100k, matching men’s amount

By Gary Baines – 3/22/2022

The last time the Colorado Open Championships landed a new title sponsor, big, headline-grabbing changes followed.

In 2016, the year that CoBank officially took over as the title sponsor for the championships, it was announced that first prize for the Colorado Open would more than quadruple — to $100,000 — and that the purse would double — to $250,000. Both figures would set new standards for a state open.

A year later, the winner’s prize for the Colorado Women’s Open more than quadrupled — to $50,000 — with the CWO purse jumping to $150,000 from $75,000.

And now, a similar situation is playing out. On Tuesday morning, officials from the Colorado Open combined an announcement of a new title sponsor with one in which the total purse and first-prize money for the Colorado Women’s Open will match that of the Colorado Open.

Denver-based Inspirato, a luxury travel subscription business, signed a five-year, $2 million deal to become title sponsor for the Colorado Open, Colorado Women’s Open and Colorado Senior Open, tacking its name on the front end of each tournament’s title. The deal will run 2022 through 2026.

And the Inspirato Colorado Women’s Open will see its first prize vaulting to $100,000 (from $50k) and its overall purse reaching $250,000 (from $150k). 

That results in the CWO winner going from receiving $11,000 in 2016 to $100,000 this year, and the purse hitting $250,000 this year after being at $75,000 in 2016. 

To put that in some perspective, the Marilynn Smith Arizona Women’s Open this month announced that its purse will climb to a minimum of $87,000. Last year’s Texas Women’s Open purse was $78,000.

“The women are just going to go crazy happy because of the increase,” said Kevin Laura, CEO of the Colorado Open Golf Foundation. 

In addition, the Inspirato Colorado Senior Open is getting a purse hike of its own — its second in the last three years, albeit not as dramatic. It will increase by $25,000, to $90,000 overall. First prize will be $18,000 after sitting at $12,500 the last two years.

This year, the Colorado Women’s Open will be contested June 1-3 — at Green Valley Ranch Golf Club in northeast Denver, as usual. Also at GVR will be the Colorado Open July 21-24 and the Colorado Senior Open Aug. 24-26. Registration for all three events will begin at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, March 22, three weeks later than usual as all involved wanted Tuesday’s commitments in place before starting the process.

This particular search for a title sponsor was a prolonged one, having lasted more than two years and eight months as CoBank had notified tournament officials on June 19, 2019 it would not be remaining title sponsor after its agreement expired. That deal ended being de facto extended a year longer than anticipated — through 2021 — due to a creative solution being cobbled together.

“I was really getting kind of nervous, with all the irons we had in the fire,” Laura said of the sponsor search process. “… Our new title sponsor, Inspirato, is a white knight for sure.”

Laura and Colorado Open Golf Foundation founder Pat Hamill had worked with Inspirato CEO and co-founder Brent Handler in a couple of major golf fundraising events in the past — namely the Jack Vickers Invitational and the Carmel Classic.

“He’s just a really good dude, very philanthropic,” Laura said. 

Savannah Vilaubi earned $50,000 for winning the 2021 Colorado Women’s Open; the total will be $100,000 for this year’s champ with Inspirato as the new title sponsor.

They approached Handler about possibly considering a Colorado Open sponsorship role a year and a half ago, but the idea was put on hold as Inspirato was working on becoming a publicly traded company at the time — a move that came to fruition last month. So Laura and Hamill met with Handler on Feb. 23.

“When we talked about being co-presenting (sponsor), he said, ‘I’d like to consider being the sole title sponsor,’” Laura recounted. “That was wonderful. Thirteen days later, they said, ‘We’re in for sole title.’ So it was really a good timing opportunity. And we’ve been working feverishly to get everything worked out since then.”

Inspirato is no stranger to tournament golf as it sponsors PGA Tour player Tom Hoge, winner of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am in February. Handler, a University of Colorado graduate, himself is a member at Colorado Golf Club.

“They’re in the golf space, so it’s not a new language to them,” Laura said of Inspirato.

The bottom line is that, after 32-plus months of searching for a title sponsor, the folks at the Colorado Open championships are all too happy to finally have a deal signed.

“That’s an understatement for a couple of reasons,” Laura said. “We had just had our first board meeting of the year at the end of January” and had just one confirmed partner for the future at that point. “The (Colorado Open Golf Foundation) board was contemplating all the other options, including funding the balance of the events themselves (as well as the possibility of utilizing multiple co-presenting sponsors without a title sponsor). It’s a relief not just for me and my team and Mr. Hamill as our founder, but the whole rest of the board is very relieved because nobody had to take any personal or corporate burden on themselves to try to make it. So it’s wonderful.”

The announcement of a new title sponsor for the Colorado Open Championships comes just a month after the Korn Ferry Tour’s TPC Colorado Championship held a similar news conference, which resulted in its tournament now being named The Ascendant at TPC Colorado. Typically, money from a title sponsor covers the purse for an event (or events)— or the great majority of it (or them).

Coloradan Becca Huffer claimed $11,000 for winning the CWO in 2013 and $50,000 in 2019.

As for the idea of having the Colorado Women’s Open purse match that of the Colorado Open, Laura said that much credit goes to Molly Greenblatt, the chair of the Colorado Open Golf Foundation since 2019.

“Molly as chair had asked years ago if we could really try to see if we could find a title sponsor that has that same vision” Laura said. “Equity is very important to everybody now, and a lot of the sports in particular. And we had that flexibility to say, ‘This is a perfect opportunity to be the first state opens in the country to have the largest purses but also have the same payout.’” And that meshed with Inspirato’s priorities as well, Laura said.

With the increases for the Colorado Women’s Open, the competitors there will be required to pay entry fees that mirror that of the Colorado Open — $600 for most women pros, $500 for female Colorado PGA members, and $400 for amateurs. The format for the CWO will remain the same — a multi-day pro-am, a la the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Also, a pro-junior event, where championship competitors team up with kids from The First Tee of Green Valley Ranch, will become part of CWO tournament week starting this year, on the GVR par-3 course. 

All in all, Laura and the leadership at the Colorado Open Championships are hoping this is just the beginning of more big years ahead for the tournaments.

“I do believe — and Brent (Handler) has said it to me twice — that this is just the start,” Laura said. “… It is going to be kind of fun to see what grows organically out of our relationship together.”

Inspirato follows in a line of title sponsors for the Colorado Open, which dates back to 1964. The list includes First Data, HealthOne and CoBank. For the first 27 years of the event, Craig Hospital was the tournament beneficiary.

The Colorado Open has been held at Hiwan Golf Club (1964-91), Inverness Golf Club (1992-97), Saddle Rock Golf Course (1998-2000), Sonnenalp Golf Club (2001-02) and GVR (2004-present). No Colorado Open was conducted in 2003 due to financial problems at that point.

The Colorado Women’s Open debuted in 1995 and the Senior Open in 1999.

(About the Writer: Gary Baines has covered golf in Colorado continuously since 1983. He was a sports writer at the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder, then the sports editor there, and has written regularly for ColoradoGolf.org since 2009. He was voted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 2021. Email: ColoradoGolfJournal@mac.com)