Nichols: Women’s Senior Golf Association needs to get creative to flourish

Jane Blalock watches her tee shot on second hole during the first round of the inaugural U.S. Senior Women's Open golf tournament in Wheaton, Ill., Thursday, July 12, 2018. (Daniel White/Daily Herald via AP) Daniel White/Daily Herald via AP

Nichols: Women’s Senior Golf Association needs to get creative to flourish

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Nichols: Women’s Senior Golf Association needs to get creative to flourish

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan’s mantra, “Act like a founder,” helped revitalize a tour in tumult. Channeling the grit, the passion, the creativity of the 13 women who founded the organization in 1950 helped inspire both the staff and membership to turn things around.

The Women’s Senior Golf Association, also known as the Legends Tour, finds itself in a founder-like moment. Coming off a hugely successful inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open and the second installment of the Senior LPGA Championship at The Pete Dye Course at French Lick – both won by Dame Laura Davies – the over-45 set is ready to roll up their sleeves, founder-style.

“Because we didn’t get the traction that we were hoping for,” two-time major winner Jane Geddes said, “it was a wakeup call.”

Any notion that a couple of majors would bring a line of potential sponsors to fill out a paltry schedule has been erased. What they need going forward is a new strategic plan.

“We’re starting from ground zero,” said Geddes, one of six players on the board of directors. “I don’t think that diminishes our value or our status by saying that maybe we have to shift our model a little bit, shift our thinking.”

The original LPGA founders had to find their place in the market, develop a strategy to woo sponsors and search for a passionate leader who could deliver their message.

All that and more is on the slate for the Legends Tour.

Jane Blalock (above) worked tirelessly for nearly two decades as the tour’s CEO to give senior women a place to play. Blalock’s company, JBC, had an exclusive contract with the Women’s Senior Golf Association to market, sell and promote the Legends Tour. It remained that way until the end of 2017, when JBC did not renew its exclusive contract.

The board has since entered a new agreement with JBC, allowing the company to still manage the operations of the tour. But there’s now more flexibility in place for everyone. More options.

Before they can search for a leader, however, the board must first work together to build a strategic plan by year’s end.

These women knock it out of the park at pro-ams. Some players believe a schedule that’s centered around pro-am events that raise money for charity might be the best way to build something that’s scalable and sellable.

The Legends Tour already has partnered with the Symetra Tour in the past, playing a 36-hole event alongside the up-and-comers after the Symetra cut was made. Household names such as Lopez, Carner, King and Bradley brought more interest to the developmental tour. Relationships were forged between the generations.

“One of our goals is to mentor,” Legends board member Jane Crafter said.

The seniors will get another chance in 2019 at the new Janesville (Wis.) Golf Classic, when the two tours combine talents in August. With the infrastructure already in the place for Symetra events, the only incremental cost for the dual model is finding a sponsor that’s willing to put up the purse for the Legends Tour. This partnership – which benefits both tours – seems the most economical solution.

“It’s a formula that works,” Symetra Tour Chief Business Officer Mike Nichols said. “But like anything in professional golf, it’s a function of finding the right sponsors to make it go.”

Juli Inkster would like to see the senior circuit target cities where the LPGA once prospered – places such as Corning and Rochester in New York. She’d also like to see someone from the corporate world take the helm.

“The players can’t be running the business,” Inkster said. “It doesn’t work.”

Gail Graham, who recently stepped down as board president, wants to see more players ages 45 to 50 participate. To get them, they need more events.

Building a schedule is the top priority. It won’t look like the LPGA. Won’t look like the PGA Tour Champions for that matter, and that’s OK.

These beloved players from the Golden Era have so much to offer. That was on full display this summer at Chicago Golf Club.

Time to get creative. Gwk

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