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Is the LPGA a 'Floundering Tour'?

By: Dave Andrews


Editor's Note: Dave Andrews has been covering women's golf for several years. In this op-ed piece, he takes a look at what some scribes are saying about the LPGA Tour, its increasing loss of tournaments and sponsors, and how the group's leadership is reacting to an increasingly distressing situation. (A late-breaking story by Golfweek's Beth Ann Baldry revealed that as many as 15 top players met with player directors July 2 during the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic to discuss the state of the tour and its leadership. A letter was then sent to the LPGA Board of Directors calling for LPGA Commissioner Carolyn Bivens's resignation and the establishment of new leadership. Stay tuned.)

Women's golf in the United States prepares for its annual celebration of the game with the U.S. Women's Open this week in Bethlehem, Pa. However, as many of the world's best women players prepare to tee it up at Saucon Valley Country Club, these are very sobering times for the LPGA.

Last week's disturbing news of yet another cancelled event on the schedule (October's Kapalua LPGA Classic in Hawaii) along the very uncertain future of the Jamie Farr Classic have prompted a flurry of articles by golf writers across the country. The 2010 LPGA season could have huge holes (even more than this year) in its schedule at the rate event sponsorships have been disappearing.

Golfweek's Beth Ann Baldry wrote last week that the LPGA is "a floundering tour with flourishing talent . . . 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'?"

SI/Golf.com's Jim Gorant reported on Sunday that a group of LPGA player's got together privately last week before the Jamie Farr Classic in Sylvania, Ohio, to discuss problems they have with LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens and her leadership: "Last Thursday a dozen or so top players convened for dinner and it was LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens who got roasted, as the players aired their various grievances about her leadership," wrote Gorant. "If she can't win back her most important constituents Bivens's days as Commish could be numbered."

SI/Golf.com's Alan Shipnuck wrote more on Monday about Bivens' handling of the business side of the tour in the current economic climate: "The problem seems to be that Bivens has stuck to her hard-line negotiating even as the economy has imploded. Sponsors are hard-pressed to maintain their current commitments, and she's asking for them to pour in more money for next year and beyond. Something had to give, and it's being reflected by the tour's contracting schedule."

These are the times for LPGA Tour executives and yes, the players themselves, to use every creative instinct they have to weather the financial storm they now find themselves in. The Tour is in the midst of a downturn that may go lower, depending on the economy. It is not alone. All of the professional golf tours are feeling the impact of the recession. None of them, however, have been as hard hit as the LPGA. The women's tour is not in a position of strength right now, and its leaders should appreciate that fact in all of its business decisions.

The key to the LPGA's long-term vitality will be creating an effective business model and a product that will be able to attract more sponsors and more fans in years to come. That is easier said than done, but it must be accomplished or many rough years could lie ahead for the women's professional golf game in our country.

Dave Andrews is a Harvard-educated former television news reporter. He's also an avid golfer who has become a fan of the Duramed Futures Tour. His home course in Concord, N.H., is annually the site of one of the tour's events. The inspiration for Dave's 2007 novel, "Pops and Sunshine," came from meeting many of the young aspiring women golfers on that tour. Each of them has a passion, dedication and determination that he finds remarkable. His novel is a fictionalization of the dream that these young women share. To order Dave's book, visit http://popsandsunshine.com.