For officials of the PGA of America, the LPGA, and Aronimink Golf Club, the anxiety over whether the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship could be staged amid a global pandemic has been replaced by happiness and excitement.
Although the tournament won’t have the trappings of a major championship – no corporate skyboxes and tents, no bleachers, and particularly no spectators, it is ready to begin Thursday at the Newtown Square layout with 132 players competing for a share of the $4.3 million purse, one of the largest in women’s golf.
“Obviously, the pandemic has affected a lot of people in worse ways than athletics,” championship director Jackie Endsley said Monday. "However, I think for us, we’ve been in such great shape by being at a wonderful host property at Aronimink and working with the LPGA and a great title sponsor in KPMG.
“I think we’ve been set up for success to handle this as best as we could. So we’re very much looking forward to this championship. Obviously, we really wish that we could have fans here with us, but they’re here with us in spirit this week and, hopefully, they’ll still join us and watch” on television.
It’s been a long road to get to this point – "very different … as good and bad as you can imagine,” Endsley said.
The PGA of America announced in April that the championship would be set back from its original late June date to October. Endsley said the organization “got pretty much to the finish line” with sales of corporate hospitality and tickets and commitments from around 1,200 volunteers before having to take another look.
“We had to re-evaluate what we could and couldn’t do, and what the state of Pennsylvania would allow us to do,” she said. “Unfortunately, our ticket buyers and our corporate hospitality patrons aren’t able to join us, so we did have to go ahead and give them a full refund.”
The number of volunteers was reduced to a little less than 200, she said, but they are “considered essential volunteers for the week that will be helping us in a multitude of areas.” Aronimink president Bob Willcox said a “large portion” of the volunteers are club members.
A spokesperson for the PGA of America said the association would not comment on the cost or financial impact of the refunds, which has not affected the purse, up $450,000 from last year. The first prize of $645,000 is more than a 10% increase over 2019.
Paul Knopp, chairman and CEO of KPMG, which is in its sixth year as title sponsor, said it was “crucially important” not to reduce the purse because of the company’s commitment to women in golf and in business, “ensuring that we continue to invest in the future so that we have more inclusive and diverse people in all of our organizations, whether it’s in the sports world or the business world.”
As the days counted down to Women’s PGA week, officials continued to work with local public health experts monitoring all developments daily. Endsley said the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Newtown Township officials offered great support.
“Business as usual, or the new normal, I guess you could say, is kind of what we’ve been getting back to,” she said.
Willcox said he was very pleased with how the PGA of America has handled the situation since March.
“They updated us constantly,” he said. “The PGA of America has been such a pleasure to work with through this entire process the last several months. They’ve been terrific.”
Aronimink is hosting a major for the first time since the 2003 Senior PGA Championship but it has been the venue for three PGA Tour events in the last 10 years – the 2010 and 2011 AT&T National and the 2018 BMW Championship. The lack of fans may be a letdown, but the golf and the course still is high quality.
“The fact that the Philadelphia golf fans who love golf so much are unable to be here and watch the ladies play, that’s disappointing for us,” Willcox said. “But we’re so happy to have it here. The benefit of it is, it’s on TV four days and we can get to see our course and the women playing it.”