Road Hole Shorts

Golf Design, golf, golf, GOLF

An update from the LPGA Tour

By: Mary Armstrong

Published by the Las Cruces Sun-News, 11/11/11

The LPGA Tour has returned to North America after a four tournament swing in Asia.   This will be the Fourth Annual Lorena Ochoa Invitational. Kyung Kim is the defending champion thanks to a three shot victory over Suzann Pettersen.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. The Asian swing was wildly popular there and Yani Tseng’s win in her homeland certainly didn’t hurt the cause. Whether it’s the result of Yani’s romp and strong tournament attendance totals or not, the LPGA seems to be seizing the opportunity to expand it’s brand in the Pacific Rim. A new Korean version of the LP-GA website was unveiled, and next year Australia will join the fun as the inaugural ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open joins the winter Asian swing this coming February.

I don’t know what the Nielson Ratings were, but even I didn’t tune into the LPGA Asian events as often as I do to the more familiar U.S. tournaments. The few times I did, I wasn’t impressed. The coverage contracted by the Golf Channel was substandard — even for the Golf Channel. The commentators were largely unknown to us Americans and the initial tournament — the Hana Bank Championship went most if not all of at least one broadcast without on-the-course ambient audio. The LPGA is at a bit of a disadvantage with the broadcasts because former commissioner Carolyn Bivens’ negotiations with the Golf Channel were one of the factors that got her booted.

Nonetheless, television is essentially LPGA’s connection to its fan base and the broadcasts must capture and hold our attention. If the Golf Channel will continue as the primary outlet for the LPGA, they must demand a better product. The biggest problem was the commentators. Aside from being unknown in the U.S. market, the lead broadcaster had a heavy Australian accent, making it difficult for us sheltered Americans to follow him. I would think familiarity is very important when trying to hold an audience. If the current U.S. crew can’t fit the Asian tournaments into their schedule, that needs to be corrected.

Despite the growing number of Pacific Rim tournaments, the absence of an Asian Solheim Cup equivalent could provide LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan with his best opportunity to solidify what is becoming a world tour. There have been published reports that there will be a multinational team event in the 2012 schedule.

Kraig Kan, LPGA Chief Communications Officer, said in a statement that speculation regarding the specifics of the event is premature at this point. It seems obvious that it would include South America, Australia and the Pacific Rim players.

That doesn’t mean I can’t speculate though. What’s the fun in waiting for them to tell us? As I have said before, there’s no good reason for simply grabbing the men’s shirt tails and copying the Ryder/Presidents Cup format.

Ryan Ballenge of ProGolfTalk offered up a single event three team format that would require one team to sit out the biennial tournament. Therefore, whichever team lost (e.g. this year it would have been the USA) would have to sit on the sidelines and watch the Europeans play against… the rest of the world, I suppose. That would be interesting…well maybe a little interesting…actually, it wouldn’t be good. I mean, can you imagine getting your butt kicked and then having to wait FOUR YEARS to get back at them?

We need to get over the fact that we aren’t the best in the world at sports – at least in women’s golf. Our “us against the world” mindset has done nothing but establish us as snobby elitists. I’m curious about what happened to the dynamics of the Ryder Cup when the British were joined by the rest of Europe in 1979. It seems to me that the event not only became more competitive, as Seve’, Bernhard and eventually other Europeans joined in, but also more interesting as dissimilar cultures came together. I sometimes envy the European side because it seems they relish the chance to join together against us as much as anything. It seems to me that broadening our “shores,” if you will, might help us to appreciate our neighbors a little more as well as make us competitive against the likes of the Asian contingent.

And now for a little geography lesson: most of us have been taught in school there are seven continents — Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America and South America. In Europe and most other parts of the world, only six continents are taught — Africa, America, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, and Europe — as America is actually a single land mass. What about the European/Asian landmass you might ask. Well, geographers actually think of the world as regions rather than continents, for ease of study. Since their reasons involve not only physical land configurations, but also cultures, it seems appropriate to use the eight regions when arranging teams. I’m going to give it my best effort: • Team America — North America, Central America and the Caribbean • Team Europe — Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, • Team Asia — Asia • Team Australia — Australia and Oceania, South America Central America and the Caribbean could just as easily swap with South America I suppose, and over time adjustments might be required. All four teams could play each year. I don’t have room in this column to explore the different formats, but there are countless ways to pair up teams and crown a biennial champion.

Whether Michael Whan and the other world tour executives use this arrangement or something totally different doesn’t really matter. What really DOES matter is that they get off the dime and get it done.

As Whan is completing his second year in the position, I’m seeing some promise for a renewed LPGA. It’s not your Grandmother’s LPGA or even your Mother’s, but its showing potential for the kind of excitement that will elevate women’s golf worldwide.

One of the more interesting recent moves by Whan this past year was to sign Korean golf ball manufacturer Volvik to a marketing deal. Volvik has a line of seven golf balls, but are mostly noted for their colored and crystal appearances.

All but one of their line is designed for swing speeds of 90 MPH or below. Volvik Chairman Kyung Ahn Moon met with Whan at the Avnet LPGA Classic to announce the partnership and also to sign Allison Fouch. Fouch joined three other Volvik sponsored players — Jee Young Lee, Kyeong Bae and Jin Young Pak — at the press conference. The company’s most visible marketing effort will be the sponsorship of the “Volvik Shot of the Day” on Golf Channel.

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: https://roadholeshorts17.wordpress.com/.

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