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LPGA commissioner 'committed to getting back to Rochester'

Rochester Business Journal
May 29, 2014

Michael Whan is the LPGA Commissioner.

The LPGA is not giving up on Rochester as a tour stop, even as it moves the tournament that has been here since 1977, its top executive said Thursday.

“I personally am not committed to leaving Rochester,” LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan said during a late-morning news conference. “I’m committed to getting back to Rochester.”

The Wegmans LPGA Championship will end a five-year run as a major upon completion of the 2014 event at Monroe Golf Club, and a 38-year stretch as one of the most popular destinations on the tour, officials announced Thursday.

The major will set up downstate in 2015 at Westchester Country Club as the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, under the administration of the PGA of America Inc.

The PGA of America will take over operations of the championship from the LPGA. KPMG LLP, based in New York City, is the new title sponsor. NBC and its Golf Channel affiliate will televise the championship.

“Between purse size, business opportunity, venue opportunity and what’s going to happen from a television partnership perspective, this is going to elevate women’s golf,” Whan said. (See video.)

The PGA of America plans to rotate the championship to sites nationwide, CEO Peter Bevacqua said.

“We’re going to take it around the country, to major markets and to great golf courses,” Bevacqua said during a late-morning news conference in New York City. “Our ultimate goal is to combine the allure of a major market with the prestige of a championship golf course. That’s how we’re heading into this.”

The PGA of America similarly stewards the men’s PGA Championship to different locales.

“There are so many courses that are going away from the male-only deal, and we should go play those golf courses,” said Stacy Lewis, the tour’s second-leading money winner this year and who is sponsored by KPMG.

“The guys get those perfect greens every week and perfectly manicured golf courses. I’d love to play on those every single week. Just to play a course that has history, has tradition, is famous. You say the name and everybody knows what it is. That’s where we should be playing. That’s what we’re going to get with this tournament.”

Wegmans Food Markets Inc. has been the Rochester tournament’s title sponsor since 1996. The company rescued the LPGA Championship after it went under in suburban Baltimore in 2009 because of money issues.

It has told the LPGA it cannot afford to continue its sponsorship of the championship after this year.

The 2014 event has a purse of $2.25 million, down from $2.5 million in its first four years as a major. The purse was $1.8 million as a non-major under Wegman’s sponsorship.

“In this process of evolving this major, there were two things that we struggled with,” Whan said. “One was, Rochester has been a home for almost four decades, and the fans there are unbelievable.

“But we have known for a while, in our negotiations with Wegmans, that that tournament was going to need to make an adjustment.”

The second struggle was the name change to a major that does not include LPGA, Whan said.

“Losing the LPGA Championship is tough,” he said. “But change is tough. But, also, adding Women’s PGA Championship is prominent. It’s powerful. It sends a message that we’re not just evolving this championship, we’re elevating it.”

The 2015 championship is scheduled for June 8 to 14. Its purse is to increase to $3.5 million.

“To credit Wegmans, they gave us years to think about how to transition,” Whan said.

“If you could pick a perfect title sponsor, it’d be somebody that would give you 40 years of commitment and then, when they know that it’s going to wind down, they give you plenty of time to make sure of your transition.”

The championship under KPMG will include a women’s leadership summit focused on the development, advancement and empowerment of women on and off the golf course, KPMG Global Chairman John Veihmeyer said.

The annual summit the week of the tournament will attract some 300 women leaders from business, politics and sports, he said.

“That summit will then feed into using the proceeds from the championship itself (into) a year-long effort in the community to continue to build that next-generation of women leaders,” he said.

The LPGA has been operating on wobbly financial grounds in Rochester since at least 2007 when Wegmans President Colleen Wegman said the tournament would need significant help in sponsorship if it were to remain here.

Whan, the LPGA commissioner since October 2009, made no secret of his wish to change the format of the LPGA Championship in Rochester, including rotating away from Locust Hill Country Club to more-challenging courses in the area, possibly including Oak Hill Country Club.

“We are extremely proud to have been a part of such a long-standing, world-class event in our hometown,” Colleen Wegman said in a statement released Thursday.

“This tournament was a great example of the community working together to make a difference and celebrate the philanthropic spirit that defines Rochester. We are very grateful to Rochester golf fans, community sponsors, volunteers, Wegmans employees, Locust Hill Country Club, Monroe Golf Club, the Rotary Clubs, United Way and local media for their support over the years.”

Whan would like to see the LPGA return to Rochester, but representatives from Wegmans have said they are not likely to sponsor a tournament that is not a major event.

“If you’ve looked at our history, even the short term that I’ve been at the LPGA, we’ve tried hard to get back to markets…whether it’s Toledo or Hawaii or Alabama,” Whan said, “markets that had gone away because of sponsorship funds or whatever the issue, (and) where we know we have an aggressive fan base.”

The final Wegmans LPGA Championship is Aug. 14 to 17.

“I’ve stayed in housing there,” Lewis said of Rochester. “It’s really homey, I guess is the best way to describe it. Everybody has their families they stay with. Everybody has certain restaurants you go to.

“It’s one of those places we’ve been going to for so long. It’s just really comforting, and really nice to go there.”

Lewis thinks the LPGA will return to Rochester at some point.

“I don’t think this is a good-bye from Rochester,” she said. “I don’t see it that way at all.

“We’re not done in Rochester, I can tell you that. There are too many players that love that area, and there are too many fans that want us to come back. I think we’ll be back, so don’t write us off yet.”

(c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.





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