For 50 years, the Biltmore Hotel’s golf course has been the setting for the international Junior Orange Bowl Golf Classic. Every Christmas week, some of the world’s top amateurs like Tiger Woods, Chile’s Juan Cerda and Hyo Joo Kim of South Korea have won titles in the prestigious tournament.
But the relationship between the city, hotel and Junior Orange Bowl almost went off tee earlier this month when the Biltmore initially asked for $50,000 to offset costs while the course was in use for the tournament. The Junior Orange Bowl committee balked at the fee. The hotel reduced its request to $20,000, but the groups still didn’t agree.
“The city owns the golf course, and under our management agreement we have the right to set terms for the tournaments, and we do only one a year,” said Gables City Attorney Craig Leen. “So it’s reasonable. This is one of our signature events. We host a number of Junior Orange Bowl activities, including the parade. The golf tournament has been here for 50 years, and all of a sudden it becomes an issue,” .
On Monday afternoon, Leen, along with Coral Gables economic sustainability director Cindy Birdsill, Gene Prescott, president of Seaway Corp., which manages the Biltmore, and Robert Bueso, the president of the Junior Orange Bowl, met to try and save the tournament.
The meeting was successful. The tournament will run, as scheduled, Dec. 26 through the 30.
“We want to obviously work to try to make this thing successful,” Prescott said Tuesday. “It’s just that we also have to find a solution, and we think we have.”
The city will remain the sponsor but the Biltmore and Junior Orange Bowl will co-manage the tournament together, Leen said.
“That should resolve the matter,” Leen said. “The Biltmore will be able to bring in sponsors to cover the cost so the Junior Orange Bowl doesn’t have to pay. This preserves the sponsorship but allows the Biltmore to use their knowledge and expertise with the golf course to manage the golf tournament. This will make this wonderful tournament even better.”
“I welcome the new partnership,” he said from his office in Coral Gables Tuesday. “Basically, they will become part of the golf committee and they will come to our meetings and we will jointly seek sponsors and they will get what they need — the marketing of their brand, which we do for them on our website and flyers and brochures. We had not informed them of the extensiveness of what we were doing, now we have it done for the remainder of the lease period, for another 15 years.
“Gene has been a very helpful, powerful ally of ours,” Bueso added. “We realize Biltmore has a business to run and cost concerns and we want to look at that. One has to take a broader perspective and this is what Gene did after initial posturing on both of our ends.”
The Junior Orange Bowl international youth sports festival, which has grown to include tennis, soccer, the Gables parade (which moves up to Dec. 1 this season), chess, photography, creative writing and ice hockey, as well as the golf tournament, celebrates its 65th anniversary this year.
The golf tournament draws about 150 of the sport’s top-ranked young players from around the world.
“Miami appreciates world-class, whether it’s ice hockey or basketball or golf. This is golf’s 50th year for us so that’s a humongous thing to perpetuate and maintain its high standard which, even in Miami, is difficult to do for 50 years so that deserves recognition.”
Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.