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Bivens Steps Down
Pressured by some of the LPGA top players, Carolyn Bivens stepped down as Tour Commissioner Monday. The LPGA's board of directors named Marsha Evans, a retired Navy rear admiral, as acting commissioner while a search committee finds a permanent replacement for Bivens, who had been on the job four years.
Juli Inkster, a Hall of Fame golfer, said Sunday that the LPGA needed to find a leader who could "right the ship."
"I'm glad someone respects rank," quipped Evans, taking the cue from Inkster's comments. The 61-year-old Evans, who was appointed to the LPGA's board this year, held senior management jobs at the Girl Scouts and Red Cross following a 30-year career in the Navy.
The LPGA also appointed former star Annika Sorenstam as an adviser to the board of directors.
After a meeting two weeks ago at the Jamie Farr Classic in Ohio, over a dozen players sent a letter to the LPGA Tour's board requesting that commissioner Carolyn Bivens resign.
Golfweek reported later that the players stated in the letter the LPGA Tour's woes could not be blamed on a poor economy, and that the tour should find a new leader to rebuild relationships with longtime sponsors.
Golfweek also reported that during a player meeting last month at the State Farm Classic, players were informed that 10 contracts with title sponsors had been signed for 2010. The letter stated that Bivens' inability to build relationships with title sponsors has led to the dramatic loss of events.
Even one of the tour's majors - the LPGA Championship - does not have a site in 2010. One of its intended destinations was Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J. But the club's owner, real-estate mogul Donald Trump, turned down the tour's request for a multiyear contract.
The LPGA has lost seven tournaments since 2007, including all three events in Hawaii, the third of which bailed out recently when the Kapalua LPGA Classic asked for a year off to find a title sponsor. In response, the LPGA said it would use all legal remedies to hold Kapalua to the remaining four years of its contract.
It already lost the popular Corning Classic, an LPGA stalwart for 30 years. Additionally, it's uncertain if the contracts for two other events in Rochester, N.Y., and Toledo, Ohio, will be renewed next year. Yet another uncertain tournament is the Michelob Ultra Championship in Virginia.
Bivens also irked Seoul Broadcasting Systems when she announced during the SBS Open in Hawaii that it had a new television contract with another Korean network. That ended SBS' sponsorship of the event. The network then signed a 10-year agreement with the PGA Tour to sponsor the season-opening tournament at Kapalua.
During her erratic tenure Bivens also got into hot water over a controversial English language policy for international players, one that was never instituted because of the uproar.
"Any good organization has to have relationships," said Inkster in reference to the deteriorating situation with sponsors. Inkster is a member of the LPGA's executive committee; seven players and six non-players form the board of directors. "They take those relationships and build on them. That's where we've been struggling."
Inkster conceded that Bivens, who was owed about $1 million for the final 18 months of a three-year extension she signed in 2008, gave the organization confidence, while supporters have credited her with securing ownership of the LPGA's own major, implementing the first drug-testing program in pro golf and signing new TV partnerships.
Judd Silverman, the director of the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic in Ohio, said the LPGA needs to create a new business model that works for both the tour and the tournaments. The tournament has a purse of $1.4 million, but Bivens planned to raise fees on event costs, such as TV production, which would have made it difficult for the event to make financial sense. "I don't know what we'll be able to do in 2010," he said. "We need to determine what we can afford and move forward."
Evans said only 13 events are secured for next year; there are 30 this season. She's aware of the problem with unsecured tournaments and says the situation is her first priority. She appointed Zayra Calderon, the LPGA's executive vice president for tournament development and worldwide sales, as the person in charge of establishing a schedule for 2010.
"Another priority," Evans added, "is rebuilding relationships with our players."
Like most leaders who leave their posts early, Bivens stood behind her accomplishments. In a statement she said: "I love the LPGA and have been proud to serve as its commissioner," she said. "It is time to turn this organization over to someone who can build on the solid foundation we've established."