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Guest commentary: The LPGA – on the verge of what?

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News

Posted: 02/10/2011 04:40:03 PM MST


The 2011 Professional Golf Tour is in full swing right?Not quite. By the time the LPGA plays its first tournament, the PGA will have played six. This during one of golf’s highest television viewing periods of the year!

Those northerners just love to torture themselves watching green grass, short skorts and waving palms. And yet, Michael Whan can’t seem to find sponsors for January. Meanwhile, he seems to be busying himself and his staff with a charity event – “RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup” scheduled for March 18th. This event will net the player’s zilch. It brings in past LPGA stars and up and coming stars from the Futures Tour. While RR Donnelly appears to be a very good supporter of the LPGA, and Micheal Whan gets good vibes for generating funds for girl’s junior golf, the tour continues to falter. It seems that Whan feels he needs to bring in other personalities to promote the world’s best women players. Huh?

Last week the LPGA announced the 2011 Tres Marias Championship in Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico was being dropped as an LPGA event due to drug violence concerns. If recent news reports for Guadalajara are accurate, one has to wonder if Lorena Ochoa’s event might be the next to fall. The Tres Marias was scheduled for April 21-24. The LPGA lists 27 events for 2011 on their website. The loss of the Tres Marias Championship brings the total number of tournaments down to 26. One of the 26 is the Founders Cup and another is the Solheim. Neither of these will be of much direct benefit to 90 percent of the tour players.

The reality is that the LPGA lost at least four tournaments since last year when they had 27. The Tres Marias, CVS, Jamie Farr and Mojo 6 were all deep sixed. As I have reported previously, for 2011 they are offering up a new event – The LPGA Taiwan Championship – but that of course is in Taiwan. The Founder’s is new as well, but as a charity event, I don’t see how we can count it. Since 2008, the LPGA has lost 14 events – nearly all of them from American soil. That’s over 35 percent of the tour.

It’s happening because of the economy. That was my first thought, and probably yours as well. However, the PGA is projecting 51 events this year. In 2008, they scheduled 50 events. So what gives?

Women’s sports just don’t sell.  We hear that often enough.  Just for fun, I decided to take a look at the WNBA.  In 2008, there were 14 teams.  In 2010 the league has 12 teams.  So yes, they have retracted some, but only at a 15 percent rate – much less than the more than 35 percent of the LPGA.  In Women’s professional tennis, the WTA has dropped three events from 60 in 2008 to 57 in 2011.  Well, okay, I concede that women’s sports just do not sell as well.  But wait, wasn’t it American marketing that achieved selling something that is free to everyone?  By the way, speaking of water, the town of Concord, Massachusetts recently banned the sale of bottled water.

The women do have some challenges that the PGA doesn’t have. Foremost on most people’s minds is the problem of marketing foreign players. But other sports have to deal with a wide ranging international field. At the recent Australian Tennis Open, Li Na became the first Chinese nationalist to reach a Grand Slam final. Her interview after winning in the semis was nothing short of entertaining and fun. If you haven’t seen it, check it out on YouTube.

She does speak English, but as you might expect, she is a little difficult to understand and yet her personality and confidence comes shining through. Do Australians embrace diversity better? Are international women professional tennis stars just more confident and outgoing? Personally, I think that the LPGA could take some pointers from the WTA. Last week, a Facebook friend posted a golf lesson video featuring Hee Young Park. The South Korean LPGA tour player appears confident, fun and outgoing even though the lesson is totally in Korean! And yet, I didn’t recognize her name. The LPGA just isn’t doing enough to publicize the personalities on tour. We hear about the English speaking girls, but when they don’t win it only alienates American fans. Being fluent in English isn’t necessary. Having traveled internationally myself, I can tell you I’ve connected with people from France, Austria, Switzerland and Vietnam although they spoke little or no English. The key is that it takes more effort than we usually are willing to exert. The LPGA needs to work harder getting us acquainted with the women that play their tour. They indicate on their website that last year there were 161 players. Of those, 127 were from 28 countries outside the United States. Nearly 80 percent of the players are from countries outside of the U.S.

The LPGA as we know it may or may not survive these tough times. One thing I do know is that devoting energy to charity tournaments won’t “pay the bills” of the LPGA pros. While some have spoken highly of the move by Whan, I can’t imagine that most are pleased with playing an event that gives them no chance of cashing a pay check. Take note that when Jason Bohn won the Zurich Classic on the PGA tour last year, he won more money for one tournament than all but eight LPGA players won during the 2010 SEASON. Perhaps the PGA should take over the founders cup where the players could really use a tax deduction.

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010. 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:


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