Women’s Golf Major Set for Westchester in June
RYE, NY—For forty years Westchester County Club served as host to the PGA Tour. Starting in 1967 the annual event showcased the world’s finest players linked to a venue of considerable stature and, most importantly, the New York metropolitan area. The event started in a grand way—Jack Nicklaus winning the inaugural event. Along the way a who’s who of golf’s royalty would hoist the trophy including the likes of Arnold Palmer, Johnny Miller, Ray Floyd, Hale Irwin, Seve Ballesteros, Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Vijay Singh, to name just a few. After 2008 the relationship between the club and the PGA Tour ended in a rather ignoble way as no new extension could be agreed upon.
Now after sitting on the sidelines since 2007, Westchester CC is once again thrusting itself forward serving as host for a collaborative golf major—the first of its kind with the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship—commencing June 11-14. The event has a new dynamic, through a joint organizing roof with the PGA of America lending its standing for the first time to a women’s professional event. The LPGA—the other main organization in the partnership— has been the main global force for women’s professional golf since its founding in 1950. The new event is the former LPGA Championship, started in 1955, and is the second oldest continuous women’s professional event outside of the US Women’s Open.
The $3.5 million purse will be among the highest in all of women’s golf and the event will be televised nationally by NBC Sports for the final two rounds. The event will also precede by one week the Men’s U.S. Open so more eyeballs should be available—if the interest is there.
The event will go beyond the staging of a professional golf event and provide for the first KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit which will provide a series of discussions on the role of women in golf, the business community and elsewhere. Representatives from business, sports and media will attend with former Secretary of State Condolezza Rice providing the closing keynote address. The inaugural Leadership Summit will be a constant presence in future events under the KPMG banner.
“Nothing speaks more powerfully about the importance of the KPMG Leadership Summit than the commitment of a remarkable group of leaders whose presence at the summit will inspire and empower the next generation of women leaders,” said KMPG Global Chairman John Veihmeyer. “These individuals have broken glass ceilings and blazed trails in their respective fields, and KPMG is excited about working with them to help make that a reality for a new generation of leaders.”
The 72-hole event will no doubt draw a quality field but the broader question is can a women’s event really sell itself in a marketplace that’s always been geared towards major headliners. A leading golf expert, who requested anonymity and is connected to the television industry stated it succintly, “Can a ‘B’ event succeed in an ‘A’ market?”
The LPGA has done well in smaller markets—a great example being the Shop-Rite Classic held outside of Atlantic City in mid to late May. With no other distractions or other major sports teams to compete against, the event has been most successful in building a loyal and deeply connected community base of supporters.
The New York metropolitan area is a far different matter. Past LPGA events have been held in the region but none has been able to go the distance and remain on the calendar for more than a few years.
To the credit of the LPGA, major strides have taken place over the last few years. Events are held around the world and the fields represent a wide swath of talented professionals from a number of different countries with the USA and South Korea being the two most dominant locations. Commissioner Michael Whan has done an admirable job in making sure all is forgotten about his predecessor Carolyn Bivens—ousted during a player revolt in 2009. That stormy tenure caused major anguish within the player ranks of the LPGA. Thankfully, those days are indeed in the rear view mirror. Prize money has increased—more tournaments scheduled—and the bevy of talented players has made for a wider array of interesting story angles.
The hooking up of the PGA of America and the LPGA could forge a possible new dynamic in how key events—especially on the women’s side—are staged and positioned. There is a desire to use this specific event as a platform in generating more interest among females given the overall stagnancy golf has been facing for the last number of years. Getting more women into the game is a clear theme for all the stakeholders but the demands today are far different than what was present just a few years ago. The time it takes to play the game, the lack of solid instruction, and the cost to play are still main obstacles impacting women and men in selecting golf as a game of choice for one’s valuable leisure time. Will millennials—those born in 1980 and after—see golf as a valuable way for both leisure and networking or will other paths be taken to fill their recreation time?
Back in 1978, crowds flocked to see a young rookie named Nancy Lopez create national headlines in winning five consecutive tournaments. The excitement was so great NBC, which telecast major league baseball each Saturday, cut into the game to provide updates on how Lopez was faring when winning for the 5th consecutive time in Rochester, NY. Nothing remotely close to that has happened since.
Can such a situation like that surface again? That’s hard to say but one thing is certain: the attention span of most people is indeed far shorter one than what it was years ago. Social media at all levels has narrowed the attention span of many. Only the truly well-positioned sports events remain able to rise above the 24/7 clutter.
The New York market place provides a big-time stage. But will the “new” KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and its tie to Westchester CC be a true game changer? Come June we shall find out.