Friday, January 7, 2011

The New Tournaments on the LPGA

There's a lot of chatter around the web about some new LPGA tournaments being launched in 2011. Michael Whan announced the events in a special Golf Channel interview... which, I admit, I didn't know was planned. I sort of stumbled into it without knowing exactly what was going on, and then got interrupted and couldn't watch it all. When I got some time, I started searching the web and found the info I'm going to pass on in this post.

Here are a variety of links I found concerning the announcements:
Basically, all the excitement is about two events. (There are more new events than that, but two have garnered all the attention.) The first is the new year-ending Titleholders Championship... although this isn't actually a new event. The original Titleholders Championship was played from 1937 to 1966, then one last time in 1972. It was played at the Augusta Country Club and was sort of a women's version of the Masters. It was a winners-only event with both amateurs and pros in the field, and the list of winners is a veritable Who's Who of women's golf. The "dominators" were:
  • Patty Berg: 7 wins, 3 as an amateur
  • Louise Suggs: 4 wins, 1 as an amateur
  • Babe Zaharias: 3 wins, 1 as an amateur
To pull this tournament out of retirement to replace the current Tour Championship is an interesting idea. The field is going to be really trimmed from the current 120-player field to the low 70s, making it an elite field. I like the way they plan to do it -- they're going to take the top 3 from each tournament, "sliding down the order" if any of those have already qualified.

The real buzz has been about the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup because the players are going to play for free. Yes, you read that right. Here's the description in DiMeglio's words:
"Players in the tournament, a 54-hole stroke-play event which marks the organization's return to Arizona at the Wildfire Golf Club at JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort and Spa, will forgo purse money in favor of financially supporting the LPGA Foundation that runs the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program. The tournament will be officially sanctioned, so players will earn points for player of the year, rookie of the year and the Rolex World Ranking. The money won will count on the money list. The tour will provide free rooms and a stipend to pay caddies."
When I saw the announcement on TGC, I noticed that Whan was particularly excited about this. While many of the postings around the web question whether 132 players will really support it, Whan said the players have been discussing this for nearly half the year and are in favor of it. He said this year's tournament will double the size of the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program, and that the 2012 and 2013 events will triple and quadruple it, respectively. That's amazing.

If you're wondering how this idea got started, Whan said it actually came from the female pros who founded the LPGA. (Hence, the Founders Cup.) In talking with them, he said he was overwhelmed by how proud they were about what they left behind for the young girls coming after them. The idea was born from that -- a desire to build a groundswell of support for developing women's golf in the USA, not unlike the support other countries have given their national programs. (At least, that's my understanding of this.) Whan said they'd all be leaving the Tour better off than they found it, having an impact long after the name players of today were gone.

He also made it clear that he thinks this will improve the LPGA's marketability to sponsors as well, simply because it shows they're thinking about what they will have for sponsors in the future. Whether you agree with him or not (I think that depends on the foresight of the sponsors and their own belief in the future of the LPGA), this will certainly give this tournament a lot of buzz. A full-field event where the players don't get paid, yet the money list changes? It's outrageous... and newsworthy. The sponsor not only gets advertising, but possibly a huge charitable donation deduction. This event will almost certainly spark a huge round of debate on the sports shows, resulting in more press for the LPGA... which they need. Badly.

More importantly, it shows that the LPGA is willing to think outside the box and take some chances. They could be insane or they could be inspired beyond belief... but they're definitely going where no tour has gone before.

Could it be that the LPGA actually has more balls than the PGA? I guess time will tell.

3 comments:

  1. "more balls than the PGA" ? Ummm - are you letting Ryan write for you today ? :-)

    I hate to point out the obvious, but the PGA Tour doesn't have to come up with bizarre attempts to snare attention. It's not a matter of thinking outside the box - the PGA Tour gives their fans what they want already - the best golf on the planet.

    Did you know that the Titleholders is also where The Masters got the idea for giving out the Green Jacket ? Which also makes Patty Berg the leading green jacket holder - not Jack Nicklaus. :-)

    And this year's Titleholders...your "thinking outside the box" idea gets the LPGA an F in English and math. The field will be made up of Tour winners this year, which is what you would expect - BUT - they are also inviting the 2nd and 3rd place finishers. HUH ?? Do they give out titles for 2nd and 3rd place ? Is the LPGA going the way of the soccer mom and just giving out trophies to everybody ? (lol)

    This "show up and play for expense money and a tax write off" idea just gets more bizarre every time someone talks about it. The money counts as official money - but the "charity" involved is an LPGA junior golf foundation, which means that the players are just turning their checks back over to the boss.

    This may sound like an ok idea - but you don't tell people how they should spend their money. If this was the players' idea, it would be completely different. If it was advertised as an exhibition to raise money for the foundation, and players would get an official money bump as if it were a regular tournament- the players would probably turn out to support the tour. But this just doesn't sound right. Can't see many of the top players showing up for this unless they are guilted into it - which is a lot easier to do to women than to men. It'll be interesting to see how it goes.

    ReplyDelete
  2. With the limited number of tournaments the LPGA has right now, including the Top 3 finishers from every tournament makes sense to me. It's a halfway point between a pure winners-only tourney and a full-field tourney... so the field is more exclusive but they haven't eliminated quite as many playing opportunities.

    As for the Founders Cup, I don't think it's as bizarre as it's being made out. Think this thing through:

    1) Everybody complains how the Koreans (as one example) are turning out so many young golfers, yet no one has found a way to get something similar going in the US. The money from the Founders Cup will give the girls program a massive shot in the arm -- which it would get no other way -- and gets it in one lump sum from a sponsor -- again, something that they could get no other way. In exchange, the sponsor gets what they really want, advertising and tax breaks. Sounds like a smart deal to me.

    2) The players essentially donate one week of their time to support the cause. Make no mistake, it will be primarily US players who show up since it supports a US golf program. The big name US players have a couple of things to gain from this: More publicity for the LPGA, which could result in more domestic tournament sponsors, and more chances to gain important Hall of Fame points -- especially if some of the big name foreign players don't show up.

    The US rank-and-file players will almost certainly fill out the empty spots (this is a full-field event), so they get another domestic opportunity to retain their cards and improve their playing categories. And if the golf program they support results in more good US players coming through the ranks, that benefits the LPGA's bottom line in the future. Again, sounds like a smart deal to me.

    3) And since everything counts against the important lists and awards (and therefore entry into the Hall of Fame), some big name foreign players will probably show up just to keep from losing so much ground to the big name US players... so, in essence, they will help the US golf programs as well.

    This is an attempt to give everybody something so they'll help jumpstart the US girls golf program. All things considered, I think it's a pretty ingenious concept that just might work. And if it doesn't work? If the "money-free" tournament idea doesn't fly? Then they play it once this year, the US girls program doubles in size as a result (no small feat in itself), and US women's golf gets a huge shot in the arm.

    Whether you like my pun or not, it's still a pretty ballsy idea. And I have to point out an equally obvious fact: The PGA gets more attention just because it's men's golf. No women's sport gets more attention than the men's version... except for maybe mud-wrestling. ;-)

    BTW, since you brought up the cool fact on Patty Berg... do you think the Titleholders will bring back the green jacket as well?

    ReplyDelete
  3. The point isn't the field of the tournament - it's the name - you can't call something "Titleholders", then invite the people who don't have the title. It needs a different name.

    A foundation like this will never be anything like what the Koreans do. They are being funded and kids put in the program by the government - many times whether the kids want to do it or not.

    Again - the "charity" tournament is more a problem of semantics than action. The Tour is telling the players what they will be doing - and it's being done in a misguided way. They are pointing at several players who have donated part or all of a check to a charity or disaster fund by their own choice - then saying that they are doing the same thing. But it's not. This is the tour telling the players what is going to happen. If it was the players idea, it would be different.

    ballsy - yes - but not for a good reason. You don't tell people how they are to spend their money. So if the players start saying they aren't coming, they will be letting the Tour know exactly that. Whan isn't supposed to be dictating this sort of thing - at least not without the players' consent.

    oh dear lord - tell me there isn't men's mud rasslin' ! (lol)

    Nope - no green jacket for the LPGA Titleholders. It's a Masters thing for one - and I really doubt the women would want a polyester jacket in their closet. :-) I'm sure they'll find a nice trophy or something.

    ReplyDelete