Paradise is lost on LPGA
The LPGA was forced to make an unsettling announcement June 30: Paradise, officially, is lost.
The Kapalua LPGA Classic, slated for Oct. 15-18, died due to a lack of title sponsor. Hawaii hosted three LPGA events in 2008. Next year, however, might be a goose egg for the Aloha State. The same could be said for Florida, which had three events, and maybe even Arizona, which had one. That’s a ridiculous threesome for a professional golf tour not to be in.
Such is life on the LPGA these days, a floundering tour with flourishing talent.
“In the beginning of the year, I was like ‘whatever,’ ” said Jeong Jang of the tour’s early troubles. “Now, I’m really worried about it. Wow, I don’t know what to do.”
There’s talk of prominent Korean players heading over to Japan LPGA Qualifying School later this year for more opportunities to play, and who can blame them?
Since 2007, the LPGA has lost seven tournaments. Six more are sponsorless, including this year’s China LPGA, an IMG-run event scheduled for the week after the now-defunct Kapalua. No one wants a three-week vacation in October.
Free advice to college players: Unless you’re the next Anna Nordqvist, stay in school.
“We are extremely disappointed with (Kapalua Land Co.’s) decision not to conduct the October 2009 event,” LPGA deputy commissioner Libba Galloway said in a statement. “We will vigorously enforce all our legal rights under the contract due to this breach.”
Kapalua ran the tournament without a title sponsor in 2008 and was on the hook through 2012. Morgan Pressel, who represents Kapalua on tour, won the inaugural event last fall. Surprisingly, we haven’t heard a tweet from her regarding the news.
When it comes to the LPGA’s ever-shrinking 2010 schedule, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where to place blame: The economy or, as Will Ferrell would say, “strategery”?
Economic woes have shaken confidence in nearly every industry. LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens wanted a substantial amount of tournament contracts to expire simultaneously so that she could better orchestrate an unprecedented deal with Golf Channel. The risky move placed a dark cloud of uncertainty over the tour. Every week, it seems, there are more questions than answers.
Wegmans LPGA is one of seven domestic events with expiring contracts this year. Longtime tournament director Linda Hampton said the LPGA waited until last week to begin serious contract negotiations with Wegmans. Bad timing.
“We’ve had all year to talk about this,” Hampton said. “We wanted to run the event and not be distracted. We just said we’re not going to do it (now). And we didn’t.”
The LPGA rebuts the notion that a dialogue about longterm renewal didn’t start until tournament week, saying the tour has been very “active and flexible.”
“We’ve been actively engaged with all our tournaments on renewal discussions,” said David Higdon, the LPGA’s chief communications officer. “Clearly that’s our priority for this year.”
Hampton said Wegmans desires to enter a multiple-year deal with the LPGA, but only if tournament organizers can continue to raise money for charity and produce a quality event with a substantial purse. That can’t be done if LPGA expenses are unreasonably high, they say.
“We have respect for (Bivens’) vision,” Hampton said. “What we have difficulty in is keeping pace with her vision, especially in this economy.”
The days of Bivens doing too much too soon should be over. The LPGA needs to bend over backwards to make things work from here on out. The tour needs strong partners such as Wegmans, a supermarket chain in the Northeast (Everyone’s got to eat, right?) now more than ever.
There’s nothing wrong with the tournament model in Rochester. Go back to Wegmans and do whatever it takes to deliver some good news.
It’s unlikely that there are enough rabbits in the hat.