By Ann Liguori
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Ways to “grow the game” has dominated conversations for years now in golf.
The announcement made Thursday — a partnership between the LPGA and the PGA of America in creating a new Major Championship, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship — should give the women’s game a much-needed boost.
At what could be the coolest venue to host a press conference — the studio for “Saturday Night Live” –- five representatives from the golf, business and television worlds, took center stage to discuss the exciting partnership and the creation of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. The new Major, replacing the LPGA Championship which took place in Rochester, is scheduled for June 11-14, 2015 at Westchester Country Club in Rye, N.Y., and will be played on different courses in top markets every year.
KPMG, a U.S. audit, tax and advisory services firm, known in the golf world for endorsing Phil Mickelson and Stacy Lewis, have signed on as a long-term title sponsor and will use that week to host a Women’s Leadership Conference, bringing together top female executives from business, politics, sports and society.
Lewis, winner of two Major Championships (2011 Kraft Nabisco Championship and the 2013 Women’s British Open), joined Mike Whan, the Commissioner of the LPGA; Pete Bevacqua, the CEO of the PGA of America; John Veihmeyer, Global Chairman of KPMG; and Mike McCarley, President of The Golf Channel, on stage in the SNL studio.
“It’s something we’ve needed for a long time,” said Lewis. “It puts us up on the next level. One of the things I’m excited about is the network TV on the weekend. That’s one thing, the Golf Channel is great, we get our golf fans there. But until we get outside of the golf and we get our fans that don’t watch, get them into our sport and they see us, they see what great athletes we are, that’s when we go to the next level. So that’s what this tournament is going to do.”
“This is something that is going to change the Tour. It’s going to change women’s golf,” added Lewis, former top-ranked player in the world and the 2012 LPGA Player of the Year.
The purse will increase in 2015 to $3.5 million, up from $2.25 million this year, and NBC will televise it on the weekend, becoming only the second LPGA Tour event on network television, along with the U.S. Women’s Open.
Attendance at last year’s U.S. Women’s Open at Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y. was disappointing, despite Inbee Park of South Korea vying for and eventually winning her third straight Major Championship there and Sebonack showcasing its beauty and challenging lay-out.
The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship should pull in stronger numbers for a number of reasons: the PGA of America is a strong partner and will organize and promote the Major as it does for a number of huge tournaments they run including the PGA Championship and Ryder Cup; Westchester Country Club is easy access from Manhattan and the five boroughs in the metro N.Y. area and close proximity to major media outlets; an important conference of powerful business women will be part of the week’s program providing additional interest and attendance; the field will include spots for top club female pros from both the PGA of America and the LPGA which should widen exposure; and stronger performances by American players and more televised tournaments continues to build more interest in the women’s game in our country.
When I asked LPGA Commissioner Whan about how he’s managed to weather the storm the last several years with a down economy, losing various sponsors and tournaments in the U.S., with an upswing of tournaments overseas, Whan credited the athletes as the key to the turnaround. “The athletes want to help and ask how they can help…I think it would floor people to realize that when athletes show up for this Major in 2015, the first thing they are going to get is a two‑sided form that talks about what’s important to KPMG; what do we have to deliver for NBC; what do we have to make sure that gets done for The PGA of America. We want our athletes to understand who is writing the check and are delivering it back. I didn’t come up with that idea. That was athletes saying to me: If you want us to help, tell me how to help.”
Whan added: “I spend zero percent of my time worrying about what my athletes are doing or saying, and I know there’s a lot of commissioners who said, did you just say that?’ There are SO many reasons to follow the LPGA and that is just one of them!
And the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship should provide a big stage in the top market to promote and showcase these amazing athletes and their stories.
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