HAVRE DE GRACE, Md. - After next year, say so long to the McDonald's LPGA Championship as we know it.
In a hastily called news conference yesterday, LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens and tournament officials announced that after 2009, the championship will be handed over to the tour by the two area businessmen who cofounded it in 1981 as an ordinary tour stop, the McDonald's Kids Classic at White Manor Country Club in Malvern.
"With all the pride in my heart and passion for the LPGA, I announce to you that I am turning over the keys, the ownership and the management of the LPGA Championship, effective in 2010," said Herb Lotman, owner of Keystone Foods, a large supplier of hamburger meat to McDonald's and cofounder of the tournament with Frank Quinn, owner of several McDonald's franchises.
Whether the event will remain in the region in 2010 and beyond has not been decided, Bivens said. If it does go elsewhere, the LPGA would follow the PGA Tour (IVB Golf Classic) and the Champions Tour (Bell Atlantic Classic) in leaving golf fans in the region high and dry.
Here are the highlights of yesterday's announcement:
As the first major to be owned and operated by the tour, the championship will no longer have a title sponsor. After next year, it will be called simply the LPGA Championship with a significant purse increase to $3 million, up from this year's $2 million.
A tournament site has yet to be determined. Remaining at Bulle Rock, where it has been for four years, is not out of the question. But neither is moving the championship out of the region. Bivens said only that she preferred that it remain in the Northeast, in or near a metropolitan area. Lotman did say the championship will not return to DuPont Country Club in Wilmington, its home from 1994 to 2004.
Once a home has been selected, Bivens said, the LPGA Championship is expected to remain there rather than moving from year to year, like the U.S. Women's Open.
While McDonald's will no longer be the title sponsor, the Ronald McDonald House charities will remain one of the tournament's beneficiaries. Lotman will serve as honorary chairman of the championship, and he will become a member of the commissioner's advisory board.
What does it all mean, and why now?
Bringing the LPGA Championship into the LPGA Tour fold is part of a strategy by Bivens, now in her third year as commissioner, to build the tour's revenues and enhance its brand identity, in part by owning and operating more of the 35 tournaments on its schedule.
The timing, evidently, is because next year is the final year of a five-year contract with Bulle Rock, and planning needs to begin in earnest for 2010.
For Lotman and Quinn, who, with a small staff, built the event from the McDonald's Kids Classic at White Manor Country Club (1981) to the McDonald's Championship at DuPont Country Club (1987) and into a major as the McDonald's LPGA Championship (1994), the journey has been long and rewarding. Over the years, the tournament has donated $46 million to charity.
But they built it up as far as they could, Lotman said. It was time to let the LPGA take over.