LPGA Hits Stride With Five-Year Business Plan
As its 2004 season begins, the worlds top womens golf league is midway through a self-imposed reexamination of its business practices, building the momentum to break through those barriers ' and more important, thinking beyond them.
The numbers, preceded by a lot of plus signs, depict the trend. Network television viewership rose 26 percent between 2001 and 2003, and 42 percent among the crucial ages 25-54 demographic. Gains on cable were just slightly lower. The LPGAs website traffic was up more than 40 percent in 2003 versus 2002. Attendance at tournaments rose 9 percent in 2003 compared to the season before. LPGA members play for more than $43 million in 32 events ' still far short of the $240 million the PGA Tour spreads over 48 tournaments, but a figure that is growing by the year.
When youve got an environment where your fan base is growing, it all reflects the interest level and the compelling nature that our fans find in our product, said Ty Votaw, who is starting his sixth year as commissioner. Thats what Im most proud of entering the third year of our five-year business plan.
Part of that plan is to attract ' and take care of ' some big-name sponsors.
The depth and breadth of the tour and the story lines over the last couple of years have shown a growth in interest, Votaw said, and that means more eyeballs, which of course sponsors want. So far, so good: The sponsor list includes data management company Sybase, food giants Kraft and Kellogg-Keebler, and Anheuser-Busch.
Youve got to realize that not every worthwhile sport involves a 20 rating and a hundred thousand people in the stands, said Tony Ponturo, vice president of global media and sports marketing for Anheuser-Busch. With the Michelob Ultra brand, which has a more female attraction, its important to be involved in a womens sport. We find the women of the LPGA to be user-friendly and cooperative from a marketing standpoint. It gives us a nice compliment to a female consumer base.
That kind of reaction is music to Votaws ears. His challenge, he says, is to get the players to sing the same song as often as possible.
We have to do everything we can to make sure our players are unanimous in their approach to the marketplace. Now that we have set the bar where it is by being a fans-first organization, when someone falls down, whether its a pro-am situation or a shuttle experience or whatever, we have to be sure that how the fan encounters the players at each touch point is important.
Not that they fall down very often. Ponturo reports that pro-am participants who initially grouse at playing with a woman pro finish the day thoroughly charmed and pleased with the experience.
Most of the players, veteran and newcomer, are on board.
I always compare [the LPGA] to a slow, steady stock, as opposed to the PGA Tour, which is more like as hedge fund, said Meg Mallon, who is entering her 17th season as a fully qualified member. We just get better every year, which is very encouraging. To Mallon, her league doesnt feel like a one-star (read: Annika) tour.
More power to her, Mallon said. We ride that wave with her.
And how about the youngsters? Are they watching the numbers?
Big time, because it continues to show how the success of the tour is going, said Natalie Gulbis, who is starting her third year. Its exciting to see the prize money go up every year as well.
Constructive criticism is part of the process ' Gulbis wants more events earlier on the schedule, and Mallon would like to see a better retirement plan (Some top players who retired werent able to live on it, she said) ' but the general attitude as the 2004 season begins is can-do, with plenty of enthusiasm and not a hint of self-pity. Some players arent happy with equipment manufacturers who have pulled in endorsement dollars in tough times, cutting back many womens contracts or eliminating them altogether. But most players think they can earn back that attention ' and the dollars ' as the economy improves.
Votaw is turning his attention to the World Congress of Womens Golf, which the LPGA is organizing in New York City the third week of May. Womens golf tours and organizations will gather in the same place for the first time ever, and the plan is to discuss ways to foster womens golf worldwide.
The linchpin of any plan is likely to focus on the LPGAs No. 1 asset.
Increases in attendance, viewership and dot.com are opening doors, but the LPGA must still show value, Votaw says. The point of difference is the players. Our players have long been regarded as wonderful pro-am participants, wonderful for corporate outings, and great with the fans.
On the other side of the glass ' and grass ' ceiling, the only limit Votaw sees is the sky.
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Day, Spieth chasing Davis after Day 1 of Aussie Open
The PGA Tour is off this week but a couple of the circuit’s biggest stars – Jordan Spieth and Jason Day – are headlining the Emirates Australian Open, the first event in The Open Qualifying Series for the 2018 Open at Carnoustie. Here's how things look after the opening round, where Cameron Davis has opened up a two-shot lead:
Leaderboard: Cameron Davis (-8), Taylor MacDonald (-6), Nick Cullen (-5), Jason Day (-5), Brian Campbell (-4), Lucas Herbert (-4), Stephen Leaney (-4), Anthony Quayle (-4)
What it means: Jordan Spieth has won this event three of the last four years, including last year, but he got off to a rocky start on Thursday. Playing in the windy afternoon wave, the world No. 2 bogeyed his first two holes but rebounded with birdies on Nos. 4 and 5. It was more of the same the rest of the way as the 24-year-old carded three more bogeys and four birdies, getting into the clubhouse with a 1-under 70. While it certainly wasn't the start he was hoping for, Spieth didn't shoot himself out of the tournament with 54 holes left to play, he has plenty of time to claw his way up the leaderboard.
Round of the day: With Round 1 in the books, the solo leader, Davis, is the easy pick here. The 22-year-old Aussie who turned pro last year, came out of the gates on fire, birdieing six of his first seven holes, including four in a row on Nos. 4 through 7. He did drop a shot on the ninth hole to go out in 30 but rebounded with three more birdies on the back to card a 8-under 63. Davis, who was born in Sydney and played this year on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada. He will attempt to get his Web.com Tour card next month during qualifying in Arizona.
Best of the rest: Making his first start in his home country in four years, Day started on the 10th hole at The Australian Golf Club and made four birdies to one bogey on the back side before adding four more circles after making the turn. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old, he also added an ugly double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole and had to settle for a 5-under 66, good enough to sit T-3. Day, who has dropped to No. 12 in the world rankings, is looking for his first win on any tour since the 2016 Players Championship.
Main storyline heading into Friday: Can the upstart 22-year-old Davis hold off the star power chasing him or will he fold to the pressure of major champions in his rearview mirror? Day (afternoon) and Spieth (morning) are once again on opposite ends of the draw on Friday as they try to improve their position before the weekend.
Shot of the day: It’s tough to beat an ace in this category, and we had one of those on Thursday from Australian Brad Shilton. Shilton’s hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole came with a special prize, a $16k watch.
Quote of the day: “Just two bad holes. Pretty much just two bad swings for the day,” – Day, after his 66 on Thursday.
Watch: Shilton wins $16k timepiece with hole-in-one
Australian Brad Shilton made a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole during the first round of the Australian Open, and he was rewarded handsomely for his efforts - with a Tag Heuer watch worth $16k.
Day gets in early mix with 66 in return to Australia
SYDNEY - Jason Day's first tournament round in Australia in four years was a 5-under 66 to put him among the leaders early Thursday at the Australian Open.
Day's round came unhinged late with a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole, his second-last of the day. He hit his tee shot into the trees on the left, hit back out to the fairway, missed his approach to the green and then couldn't get up and down.
''That was brutal,'' Day said of the 481-yard hole that played into gusting winds.
But Day recovered quickly to birdie his last to sit three strokes behind fellow Australian and early leader Cameron Davis, who started on the first, had six front-nine birdies and shot 63 at The Australian Golf Club.
In between the two was Australian Taylor MacDonald, who shot 65.
''It was a pretty solid round, I didn't miss many fairways, I didn't miss many greens,'' Day said. ''I'd give myself a seven or eight out of 10.''
Defending champion Jordan Spieth, attempting to win the Australian Open for the third time in four years, was off to a poor start among the afternoon players, bogeying his first two holes.
The Sydney-born Davis played most of this season on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada and will attempt to secure his Web.com card in the final round of qualifying from Dec. 7-10 in Chandler, Arizona.
''Everything went to plan,'' Davis said. ''I got off to a great start. I was hitting my spots and was able to keep it together on the back nine.''
NOTES: Australian Brad Shilton had the first ace of the tournament, using a 5-iron for a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole, his second hole of the day. Australian veteran Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open winner, shot 69. He and Rod Pampling (68) played the first round with Day.
Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long
Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.
Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.
"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"
The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.
Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.
"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."
Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.
"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.
"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.
"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."