2005: Votaw to leave LPGA at end of ’05

Ty Votaw was not yet 30 years old in 1991 when he began working for the LPGA. Fourteen years later, the man who ascended to the top of the organization alerted members of the LPGA board of directors that he will end his six-year reign as commissioner at the end of 2005.

At the close of each season Votaw takes time to reflect on the past and ponder the future of the tour he’s guided since March 1999. This time he came to the conclusion that it is time for him to move on, even though he has disclosed no firm plans for his future. Votaw, who will turn 43 next month, met with the board of directors prior to the holidays and told members he planned to resign. The board suggested he take the holiday break to think more about his decision before coming to a final conclusion.

“I was in the same place when I came back,” Votaw said. “The foundation is strong and the future is bright. After this year I will be able to say that I’ve left the LPGA in a better place than I found it.”

There are numbers to back Votaw’s contention. Prize money on the LPGA has grown from $36.2 million in 1999 to $45 million this year, and the average tournament purse has increased from $840,000 to $1.4 million in the same time. In Votaw’s first year as commissioner there were 12 events with purses of $1 million or more. There will be 30 events that eclipse the $1 million barrier this year. Four tournaments will surpass the $2 million mark.

“He’s done a great job,” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. “He’s demonstrated good communication skills. The way he’s handled the operations and the strategy of the business has been great. He’s put together a good platform for taking advantage of the next few years.”

There are several other highlights of Votaw’s tenure: In 2000, he helped orchestrate a yearlong celebration of the tour’s 50th anniversary. In 2002, Votaw formed the LPGA’s first player summit, where he introduced a five-year, fans-first strategic business plan that has helped produce double-digit percentage increases in tournament attendance and television viewership. Votaw also played a key role in the development of the World Congress of Women’s Golf in 2004. The LPGA has grown considerably globally under Votaw. The season begins Feb. 11-13 with the World Cup in South Africa and also will make stops in Hawaii, Mexico, France, England, Canada, Korea and Japan.

Votaw’s tenure also will be remembered as a time when the commissioner developed a romantic relationship with an LPGA player, Sophie Gustafson. Many players reacted negatively to the relationship that began in 2002, shortly after Votaw’s divorce was finalized. At the height of the controversy, Votaw even said he would step down, but the board of directors did not accept his resignation offer.

The board, however, will accept his resignation at the end of 2005. A search committee was formed immediately after the Jan. 7 meeting at LPGA headquarters in Daytona Beach, Fla. The committee includes players Heather Daly-Donofrio, Beth Daniel, Lorie Kane, Laura Davies, Deb Richard and independent directors Rae Forker Evans, Patti Benson, Dawn Hudson and former LPGA commissioner Charles Mechem. Daly-Donofrio and Evans will serve as co-chairs.

“Our No. 1 goal is to find the best candidate possible,” Daly-Donofrio said. “But we’re not pressed for time on who we’re looking for. We can turn over every stone to find the best candidate that we can.”

Finding a replacement will not be a simple task. The previous three commissioners all were considered highly effective leaders. Mechem (1991-95) had an outgoing personality and was an outstanding communicator when the tour needed to bolster corporate relationships. Jim Ritts (1996-1999) was more of a traditional businessman, a marketing whiz who was flashy and displayed an abundance of pizzazz. Votaw seemingly took traits from both and developed into a steady leader who was able to mold the LPGA into the direction he felt was best for his players, sponsors and employees.

“Ty has done a tremendous job leading the LPGA,” Daly-Donofrio said. “He’s really taken the tour to a new level. The awareness of the LPGA brand is growing and a lot of new things are still in the works. Ty has been dedicated and he’s given his life to this tour.”

Votaw first joined the LPGA as general counsel in 1991 and was promoted a year later to Mechem’s special assistant. In 1997, he was promoted to vice president of business affairs. He replaced Ritts as commissioner in 1999.

“It’s up to others to determine what my legacy is going to be, but I’m proud of very many things that have happened during my tenure,” Votaw said. “I’m very much at peace with the decision. I’m looking forward to 2005, but when it’s over I’ll be ready for the next chapter of my life, whatever that may be.”

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