<
>

How The LPGA Ended Up With A Major With PGA In Its Name

One fall morning in 2013, LPGA commissioner Mike Whan left his office in Daytona Beach, Florida, driving south. Pete Bevacqua, chief executive of the PGA of America, headed north from his organization's headquarters in Palm Beach Gardens. With a couple of staff members in tow, the men struck out on the highway for Vero Beach.

"We met on Halloween," Whan said. "Pete had told me he could get together but that he had to get out of there by 2 o'clock because he had to carve pumpkins."

It wasn't a social call for Whan and Bevacqua, two of golf's energetic and innovative administrators. They were talking about the survival of the second-oldest women's professional major -- the LPGA Championship, whose future was in jeopardy after 2014 because of a lack of sponsorship -- and try to find a creative solution.

"That's when we started building the idea," Whan said of the sit-down with Bevacqua. "That's when we knew we were going to go forward with it."

Whan thought a partnership with the PGA of America was not only a way to salvage the event's image but also to improve it. And when accounting giant KPMG came into the picture as a deep-pocketed sponsor that wanted to use the tournament to showcase women business leaders, the Halloween chat became more treat than trick.

This week's KPMG Women's PGA Championship at Westchester Country Club's West course in Harrison, New York, features a $3.5 million purse, more than $1 million more than the final Wegmans LPGA Championship in Rochester, New York, and second only this year to the $4 million offered at the U.S. Women's Open.

It is being held at a classic venue designed by Walter J. Travis and opened in 1922, familiar to many golf fans as the longtime site of a PGA Tour event (1963-65 and 1967-2007). NBC will broadcast the third and fourth rounds, a rare network television opportunity for the LPGA. The plan for the new-old major is to move it around the country to courses where women haven't had the chance to compete.

"KPMG asked me what we needed, and I said we needed a big venue, a big purse and network TV," said Stacy Lewis, who has had an endorsement contract with the firm since 2012. "Those are kind of the three big things that I thought if we could get to all of our majors, eventually that would really put us on the map."

The PGA of America had been looking for ways to become involved in the women's game, and this deal seemed like a natural fit.

"We're excited because we feel we need to do something big, something important with the women's game,'' Bevacqua said when the agreement was announced in May 2014. "Our two key mandates are serving our members and growing the game. And so much of growing the game is getting more women involved."

Consternation about losing the name of an event that began in 1955 largely yielded to satisfaction about the five-year commitment from KPMG and optimism for a fresh start.

"I think the hardest part was losing the name of the LPGA Championship," Lewis said. "Looking at all the good things that are coming out of this, you can't turn this opportunity down. It creates some stability in our majors, which we need. When Mike Whan got here a few years ago, we didn't necessarily have that in our majors. And a tour has to have that. We're keeping the same trophy. We're inviting all those past champions back. We tried to keep it as much the same as we could, other than the name."

The LPGA Championship had, for half of its 60 years, a title sponsor, including Mazda, McDonald's and Wegmans. The U.S. Women's Open is the only one of the tour's five current majors without a corporation in the name.

"Do I like it better when a tournament is just a tournament? Of course," said Whan. "What I want is a 50-year [long-term] sponsor. The way you do that is over-deliver for them. One of the ways you do that is through title sponsorship. Same with the ANA Inspiration. We would rather it just be called The Inspiration. When someone writes about it or it's on SportsCenter, it's easy to lose the brand, and that's where the value is."

Judy Rankin, the Hall of Fame golfer and now a television analyst, takes a pragmatic view. "In any of the major championships -- men's, women's, whatever -- the bills have to be paid," she said. "When you come up with a strong sponsor and everything else falls into place, I don't think that's harmful anymore the way it was once thought of."

KPMG global chairman John Veihmeyer said he became interested in sponsoring the event because it could be an opportunity to help rising female executives climb the corporate ladder to top positions. The inaugural KPMG Women's Leadership Summit on Wednesday will give a couple of hundred women executives the chance to learn from a panel of top-level leaders in business, media and sports.

"If we could use the championship as a broader platform, we thought we could do something really neat," Veihmeyer said. "We're all in this to make a long-term impact. We're going to have 250 to 300 next-generation business leaders, women that are two or three levels down maybe in their organizations today but who their current CEOs believe they have the potential to get to the C-suite. This is going to be a phenomenal opportunity to have them meet a lot of folks who have already broken through that glass ceiling."

Inside the ropes, players will face a demanding 6,670-yard, par-73 challenge with lots of elevation changes and slick, sloping greens. "It looks to me like a shot-maker's course," Lewis said. "You're going to have to keep it in the fairways and hit into certain spots on the greens."

The roster of winners in the PGA Tour event at Westchester includes many of the sport's best, including Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Raymond Floyd, Seve Ballesteros, Hale Irwin, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh. Rankin, who worked as a broadcaster for a number of the men's tournaments at Westchester, notes that the women will have to like variety.

"You're going to have to be a player who can play a hilly golf course," she said. "There will be a lot of uneven lies, a lot of places where you play up or where you have a certain amount of side hill."

Inbee Park won the LPGA Championship in 2013 and 2014 and, despite the new name and location, will be trying to match Annika Sorenstam's three straight victories in the event from 2003 through 2005. Sorenstam likes Park's chances.

"Inbee really comes to mind because she hits a lot of fairways and she's known for her short game," Sorenstam said. "If she just rolls in a few putts, she'll be hard to beat. She has so much experience when it comes to majors. You're going to need to be confident with your driver. It's going to be hard to play from the rough and from the trees, there's no about it."