It won’t just mark the final staging of the LPGA Championship, but it appears it could mark the end of Rochester’s 38-year association with the LPGA as host of a tour event.
Wegmans won’t go back to sponsoring a regular tour event in the area, and there are no plans for a regular tour event in the area beyond this year.
“Wegmans interest has always been about being the best,” Linda Hampton, tournament coordinator for the Rochester charity foundation that operates the event, told GolfChannel.com. “That goes with their brand, and our brand. So, with the championship being moved in 2015, it was clear from the get-go, that would be the end of our interest, and Wegmans’ interest in being the title sponsor.”
The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reacted strongly to Thursday’s announcement that the LPGA Championship will become the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship beginning in 2015 and rotate to major metropolitan markets around the country.
“No LPGA in Rochester?” wrote Rochester & Democrat columnist Leo Roth, with his readers just getting the news Thursday morning. “It seems surreal. Like we're pulling a 1-iron from our backs. That nearly 40 years of goodwill, friendships, charity fundraising and history meant nothing to an ambitious commissioner with an inflated view of his tour and a new generation of players who've grown up feeling entitled to more.”
Hampton struck a more conciliatory tone reacting to the news.
“It’s good, it’s bad and it’s sad,” Hampton said. “But we’re going to have a great event. We are going to go out feeling very proud.”
Hampton said the plan is to celebrate Rochester’s LPGA history.
“We do recognize that this news is important to women and the game of golf, and we’re about that, so we are excited for the players,” Hampton said. “We can’t compete with a global sponsor, like KPMG. We know their brand and the LPGA brand is global. Good for [LPGA commissioner] Mike Whan, he’s put their association in a good place for the future. We get it. We love that. We love the players. We want to appreciate 38 years of what we have contributed to the growth of the LPGA tour and the value we have brought to this community. That’s how we feel and what we are going to try to put out there in August.”
During Thursday’s news conference in New York announcing the Women’s PGA Championship, Whan was asked about leaving Rochester.
“Do I have a desire, do 190 LPGA players have a desire to play Rochester on a regular basis? Of course we do,” Whan said. “This was never about having the choice of: Do we stay or do we go? We knew we were going to have to transition, that was a financial reality.
“I also think it’s a reality, even if it doesn’t happen overnight, that we tend to be committed to getting back to the markets that have been good to us. That doesn’t mean we have gotten back to all of them. We wish we were back in Corning [N.Y.] and Springfield [Ill.]. But a lot of those markets that thought we weren’t coming back to them were wrong. I feel 100 percent committed to finding a way to get back to Rochester. It will be in a different name and different tournament.”
Rochester’s Locust Hill Country Club was home to an LPGA event since 1977. With the regular tour event struggling to find a new a title sponsor in 1997, Wegmans stepped into the role. With the LPGA needing a new title sponsor for its flagship event in 2010, Wegmans stepped up again. That’s when Rochester became home to the LPGA Championship. The event was moved to Monroe Golf Club for this year.
Stacy Lewis, the Rolex world No. 2 ranked player, said she isn’t alone among players wanting to find a way to return to Rochester.
“I don’t think this is goodbye to Rochester,” Lewis said. “I don’t see it that way at all. We are not done at Rochester, I can tell you that. There are too many players that love that area and too many fans that want us to come back.”
The LPGA released an open letter from Whan to the Rochester community after the Women’s PGA Championship news was released. He praised Wegmans and the community support, and he made a pledge.
“We’ll work together to provide the stage for a future return to one of America’s great golf cities,” Whan wrote.