The LPGA doesn't need to concoct a pseudo-major like the Players because it already owns one of its majors, the LPGA Championship. One problem: Right now the event has no long-term title sponsor or home. The championship found an adoptive parent for 2010 in the Wegmans grocery chain and Rochester, N.Y., a city that faithfully hosted a regular LPGA event for 32 years (1977 to 2009), and early ticket sales indicate that 25,000 will be in the gallery each day. It's a good short-term fix, but it reminds me of 1994, when McDonald's adopted the event and moved it from a classic course, Bethesda Country Club, to a regular tour site, DuPont Country Club. As a player, I was thankful that McDonald's had come to the rescue, but the tournament lost that special feeling of a major.
My fear—and I'm a proud former champion in Rochester—is that the same thing will happen. Major championships need major sites with major TV for the final rounds. So the first choice would be a national sponsor, big-name courses and network airtime. But if the only option is Wegmans, a regional company that doesn't need big-time TV, the tour should try to leverage a presenting sponsor that wants national exposure. That leaves the course. Locust Hill is a fabulous members track, but the facilities are challenged and the layout can't be expanded to counter today's power players. At the least, the tour should go with a rotation of classic courses within Wegmans' region, the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, as a compromise.
The LPGA took a risk by acquiring its flagship event. Now it's time to make that championship major.
Dottie Pepper, a 17-year LPGA player, is now an analyst for NBC.
June 27, 2010
GOLF PLUS will next appear in the July 12 SPORTS ILLUSTRATED.