HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. - After next June's event, the McDonald's LPGA Championship will be no more, bringing an end to a 16-year relationship with the second leg of the women's grand slam.
It was announced yesterday that starting in 2010, the major will be owned and operated by the LPGA, for the first time since the event's inception in 1955. And for the first time, it will not have a corporate title. It will likely have a presenting sponsor, just as McDonald's now has Coca-Cola.
LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens and Herb Lotman, co-founder of McDonald's sponsorship of women's golf, an affiliation that began in 1981 as the McDonald's Kids Classic, broke the news at a news conference at Bulle Rock Golf Course, which has hosted since 2005 and will fulfill the final year of its contractual commitment in 2009.
Whether the tournament remains after that is still to be determined. Several sources familiar with the situation believe it will move. They also said there's a possibility the dates could as well, perhaps to August.
"This truly is a momentous day for the LPGA," Bivens said. "We're doing [this] with an eye toward the future."
The purse in 2010 will be $3 million, an increase of $1 million from this year.
Lotman will become the event's honorary chairman and serve as the newest member of the Commissioner's Advisory Council.
"The LPGA is strengthening its position with ownership and management of a select group of events," he explained. "The LPGA Championship is a natural fit to this portfolio."
It is believed/hoped that most, if not all, of the staff members who work this event will continue in their roles in 2010 and beyond.
Ronald McDonald House Charities will remain one of the beneficiaries.
The McDonald's Kids Classic began 27 years ago at Chester County's White Manor Country Club. In 1987, it moved to DuPont C.C. in Wilmington, Del., and was renamed the McDonald's Championship, which quickly attained the status of the LPGA's best nonmajor. In 1994, it officially became one of the four biggest weeks on the women's caledar.
In all its forms, the tournament has donated more than $46 million to charity, Lotman said.
The tournament used to be televised on CBS. But the last few years, it's been on the Golf Channel. It's no secret that the LPGA would prefer to have its marquee week back on a network.
Bivens said it's a "huge advantage" for the LPGA to have control over its major.
"It's high-risk, high-reward," she said. "You have to be able to maximize [the financial potential].
"And it's extremely important from an overall brand perspective."
The LPGA already owns several other events, most notably the Solheim Cup, which is played in this country only once every 4 years.
The LPGA is looking for a "permanent" site as opposed to a rotating one. Bivens said her first preference is something in the "Northeast." And a "major market."
Whether that means the greater Philadelphia area remains to play out. Sources say the LPGA is looking for a "big-time" venue. But they think North Jersey might be the destination. Even though the LPGA already has two events in metropolitan New York.
Once upon a time, Philly used to have a PGA Tour stop. And then a Senior (now Champions) Tour stop. At one point, briefly, a Nike (now Nationwide) Tour stop. And, until last year, an LPGA event at the South Jersey Shore.
At least there's Jim Furyk's 1-day Exelon Invitational.
"It's been a great run," Lotman said, accurately.
But, apparently, it's time for a change. *