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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Weather extends Barbasol to Monday finish
NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - A thunderstorm has suspended the fourth round of the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship until Monday morning.
Sunday's third stoppage of play at Champions Trace at Keene Trace Golf Club came with the four leaders - Hunter Mahan, Robert Streb, Tom Lovelady and Troy Merritt at 18 under par - and four other contenders waiting to begin the round.
The tournament will resume at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Lightning caused one delay, and play was stopped earlier in the afternoon to clear water that accumulated on the course following a morning of steady and sometimes-heavy rain.
Inclement weather has plagued the tournament throughout the weekend. The second round was completed Saturday morning after being suspended by thunderstorms late Friday afternoon.
The resumption will mark the PGA Tour's second Monday finish this season. Jason Day won the Farmers Insurance Open in January after darkness delayed the sixth playoff hole, and he needed just 13 minutes to claim the victory.
Watch: Spectator films as Woods' shot hits him
It was a collision watched by millions of fans on television, and one that came at a pivotal juncture as Tiger Woods sought to win The Open. It also gave Colin Hauck the story of a lifetime.
Hauck was among dozens of fans situated along the left side of the 11th hole during the final round at Carnoustie as the pairing of Woods and Francesco Molinari hit their approach shots. After 10 holes of nearly flawless golf, Woods missed the fairway off the tee and then pulled his iron well left of the target.
The ball made square contact with Hauck, who hours later tweeted a video showing the entire sequence - even as he continued to record after Woods' shot sent him tumbling to the ground:
The bounce initially appeared fortuitous for Woods, as his ball bounded away from thicker rough and back toward the green. But an ambitious flop shot came up short, and he eventually made a double bogey to go from leading by a shot to trailing by one. He ultimately shot an even-par 71, tying for sixth two shots behind Molinari.
For his efforts as a human shield, Hauck received a signed glove and a handshake from Woods - not to mention a firsthand video account that will be sure to spark plenty of conversations in the coming years.
Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter
After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.
But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.
Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":
Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.
Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.
Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.
The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.
“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.
In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.
“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”
Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.
“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.