The LPGA Playoffs with its big-bang finish in an ADT Championship-style finale aren’t in the plans for a return anytime soon . . .
And the LPGA schedule could grow by an event or two despite the unfavorable economic climate . . .
Those were among news and notes garnered in GolfChannel.com’s conversation with LPGA commissioner Mike Whan during the LPGA Tour Championship’s media day Wednesday at Grand Cypress Golf Club.
Here are some highlights:
Major Championship developments: The LPGA Championship, still searching for a title sponsor and permanent home, could be nearer to finding both in the temporary home it found this year.
Wegmans served as a presenting sponsor while hosting the year’s second major championship in June at Locust Hill Country Club in Pittsford, N.Y. While it was originally intended to be a one-year deal with Wegmans returning as a regular tour stop next year, Wegmans has made a substantial offer to upgrade to major championship host and sponsor. The LPGA has been looking for a new title sponsor for its major since McDonald’s dropped out last year.
“Wegmans has offered a long-term historic approach to the LPGA Championship,” Whan said. “I told them we are probably not going to make a decision on that until this season is almost over. We’ve had a few people show significant interest. We just want to make sure it’s the right ingredients, the time is right, the course is right, that we can get it televised in a big way.
“I think the good news is Wegmans answers a lot of those questions. It’s a great offer. But whether or not we will put it there, I’m not ready to announce yet.”
The LPGA has a contract with Wegmans as a regular tour stop through 2012 with Wegmans having options for 2013 and ’14.
LPGA Playoffs not on the horizon: With ADT out after 2008 as title sponsor of the LPGA Playoff finale, a popular event that featured the richest first-place check in women’s golf ($1 million), former commissioner Carolyn Bivens floated plans to bring the newly configured format back at the start of the 2010 season.
The ADT-style jackpot format never returned and is not likely to anytime soon.
“That format could come back, but not in the ADT event, and not in the same end-of-the-year tournament spot,” Whan said.
Growing the LPGA schedule:The LPGA schedule features 24 events that count toward official money this season. Though 10 contracts came up for renewal in hard economic times this year, Whan is expecting to unveil a 2011 schedule that could be even stronger.
Of the 10 contracts that expired this year, only CVS/pharmacy failed to renew. The Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic will take a one-year hiatus before returning in 2012 with a contract that runs through 2014.
Whan said he’s confident that work to add at least two more tournaments is coming together.
“I don’t think we will play a ton more in 2011, but we will probably play a little more,” Whan said. “We still have a lot of irons in the fire. I will tell you without any hesitation, we will not play less than 24.”
The LPGA played 34 events in 2008, but the schedule shrank to 27 events in ’09 and 24 this year due to a combination of hard economic times and tough negotiating policies by the previous tour regime.
Asked what he thought was an ideal number for the schedule, Whan said: “My mind says 30. Typically, the top players play 25, maybe 26 times a year. A few will play every event you’ve got. I think when you have 34, 35, 36 events, you start worrying about your fields. While 2010 was a terrible year for a tournament’s contract to end, a reason we did so well, that so many tournaments stayed with us, is that what we were bringing to town was pretty significant. The 30 best players in the world were all coming to tee it up.
“I think 30 to 32 tournaments is a great vision. But as I’ve said to my staff, I’m in no rush. One thing that is different about this job is that, usually, as a CEO, you are thinking about the income statement, growing the value and deciding what the exit strategy is. There is no exit strategy for the LPGA. I get to nourish this thing four, five, six years. My job is not to have a great couple of years. My job is to build this thing so it gets stronger and stronger.
“I’ve said to my staff, don’t rush events. Let’s bring in events that are thought out, so we can be in business with them as long as we’ve been in business with State Farm, Wegmans, Nabisco because that’s what the LPGA deserves, that’s the legacy we need to leave.
“I think a lot of people were expecting us to fall off the map in 2010. We certainly are not going to do that when you hear about 2011. I think it’s slow growth, not because it has to be, but because of the state of the times. Another reason is that I just don’t want to rush something and call it official and then realize it doesn’t have long-term legs.”
Whan has preached meaningful partnerships with sponsors since the day he got the job.
“A comment I made at the beginning is that I want to have more tournaments, but if we were just our own small business, didn’t do golf for a living and wanted more customers, the way we would get more customers is be really great to the ones we have,” Whan said. “It’s the companies that focus on the customers they don’t have that go out of business. I said I think we are a little too focused on the ones we don’t have. So we are going to be great to the ones we have, because if I was a big-time sponsor, and I was thinking of joining the LPGA, the first thing I would do is call Nabisco, call State Farm, call Navistar and HSBC, and I’d say, `Tell me about these guys.’ Any big time sponsor is going to do the same thing. We have to make sure when they get the call, our best fan is the one who is already with us. I think we might have gotten a little bit away from that as an organization. People want to write that as a commissioner thing, but I think it’s organizationally. Back in 2007 and ‘06, there were a lot of new customers knocking on the door. So I think the recession really helped us get back to that.”
The future of the LPGA Tour Championship: The LPGA Tour Championship, which left the Houstonian Golf & Country Club in Houston after one year, will be played Dec. 2-5 without a title sponsor again this year in its move to Grand Cypress Golf Club in Orlando. The contract is for the club to host one year, though Whan said the tour is in discussions with a potential title sponsor beginning next year and is determined to make Central Florida the permanent home to the season-ending championship.
IMG owns and runs the LPGA Tour Championship, but the contract ends after this year with the LPGA taking over the event. Though IMG is contractually obligated to fund this year’s championship, the LPGA has stepped in to help find sponsorships to help fund the purse and cut expenses.