Road Hole Shorts

Golf Design, golf, golf, GOLF

The LPGA – what now?

By Mary Armstrong

Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News 11/05/2010

The LPGA tour is winding down for the season.  Two events remain before the LPGA Tour Championship will be played December 2nd through 5th at Florida’s Grand Cypress Resort.  The tournament is presumably supposed to parallel the Men’s Tour Championship, which is arrogantly named the World Golf Championship, but the LPGA version is lacking in much more than just prize dollars – $1.5 million vs. the $8.5 million for the men’s event.  And by the way, it’s hard to imagine that the World Golf Championships could compare to the 127 international players from 28 countries that play on the LPGA week in and week out.

Stina Sternberg’s Golf Digest page this month features the Rolex LPGA Tour Championship as a “Tourney in Turmoil”.  From my perspective it’s more of a soap opera.  It seems that this tournament has been racked by controversy since ADT declined to extend its sponsorship in 2008.   

Beginning in 2006, the LPGA was the first to implement a playoff (ala the FedEx Cup) system and so-called postseason.  The tournament was played at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach and was called the LPGA Playoffs at The ADT.  Through 2008 the field was an elite group of 32 players.  In October of 2008 a “full field” event of 120 players was announced with Stanford Financial as the new sponsor.  The new tournament was to be played in Houston with the LPGA’s best purse of two million dollars.  In February of 2009 Stanford Financial was busted by the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) for allegedly committing 8 billion dollars in fraud.  CEO Allan Stanford was accused “massive ongoing fraud” involving high-yield certificates of deposit held in the firm’s Antiguan bank.  All the company’s assets were frozen.  Tournament Operator for the 2009 event, IMG, was left holding the bill as Stanford Financial eventually went bankrupt last year.  

The LPGA took over as the tournament operator and IMG was saddled with putting up the money.  The purse shrunk to 1.5 million and in response to the loss of several full field tournaments, LPGA officials abandoned the exclusive field format the LPGA Tour Championship. 

To top it all off, in 2008 there were three events in the LPGA’s home state of Florida.  In 2009 there none. 

If you’re thinking “what a mess”, I’m with you.  In an interview by Stina Sternberg, tour player Sophie Gustafson voices her frustration with the schedule.  The LPGA Tour Championship is a full SEVEN weeks after the tour’s last full field event.  The fact that the LPGA is made up of so many international players makes the situation even more difficult.  Gustafson remarks, “I’d rather play the week before Thanksgiving and go home to Sweden for a few weeks.”  But the schedule was set due to the availability of the venue.  Grand Cypress Golf Club apparently holds all the marbles.  Gustafson also took aim on the full field format, saying, “Playing in a Tour Championship should be a reward.  The rank-and-file are screaming for more full field events, so I think it’s hard for [commissioner] Mike Whan to go back to the old format, but I hope we get there.” 

The reality is that both tours have struggled with sponsorships and maintaining the status quo.  But it’s clear the LPGA has suffered most.  A few months ago I wrote that Michael Whan should be thinking outside the box.  The rumor is that next year’s LPGA Tour Championship may embody just that approach.  Whan says that he and his staff have been looking for sponsors for a new format which would bring back the exclusive field concept.  He says, “It’s neither the existing format of the 2010 LPGA Championship nor any of the previous formats for the season finale, but an exciting new idea that seems to be resonating with the sponsors considering our proposal. 

The LPGA’s problems aren’t unique.  Other women’s sports don’t seem to be able to garner the same following that the guy’s do.  I’m not  a big fan of capitalism – visa vie marketing and advertising theory – but for goodness sake, if businesses can get women to buy a particular brand of pantyhose or men to buy a certain razor why can’t they figure out what it takes to sell the LPGA tour?  I hate to say it, but I think there are too many guys involved.  The guys have been trying to make the LPGA a tour of sex goddesses since Laura Baugh and Jan Stephenson.  It hasn’t worked.  In a 2006 Golf Digest article by Kate Meyers, Kathy Whitworth vented against the sex sells approach.  “I can’t imagine us going down that road again,” says Whitworth, 63 (at the time). “It didn’t work then, it won’t work now. If this is the only way we can make this organization grow, I think it will die, just shrivel up. The sponsors aren’t going to pay a million dollars a week for someone to come in in a scantily clad outfit. They can pay a model to do that.”

After 50 years you’d think they’d realize that it just isn’t working.  Oh, and by the way, did I mention that Lorena Ochoa beat Colin Montgomerie in the pro-celebrity Star Trophy at Mission Hills last Sunday?

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces last January.  She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects.  You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog: https://roadholeshorts17.wordpress.com/.

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