LPGA cuts 3 events amid failing economy
The LPGA Tour will offer three fewer official events in 2009, the latest result of the global economic downturn and its effect on pro sports.
The 2009 schedule released Wednesday has 31 events — 20 in the United States and 11 internationally — not including the Solheim Cup. Tournaments off the schedule include the ADT Championship, which starts Thursday and closes this year's slate.
Purses will be around $55 million US, about $5.25 million down from 2008. The tour announced $53.4 million US in purses Wednesday; the Ginn Open in Reunion, Fla., which had a $2.6 million prize pool this year, has not yet determined what it'll pay out in 2009.
"It's no secret that the road ahead, particularly 2009, is going to test our mettle," LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens said. She added that the LPGA is confronting challenges facing not only "other sports and entertainment organizations, but by every business enterprise of any kind in all corners around the world."
In recent weeks, the NBA has announced layoffs and the closing of its Los Angeles office, and several NASCAR teams have laid off staff to cut costs. Golf isn't immune, but Bivens predicted the LPGA would be "solidly profitable" in 2009.
"The state of the global economy and the economic crisis we're all facing has resulted in a slightly different tournament landscape," Bivens said. "It's not something that comes as a surprise."
Besides the ADT, other events not continuing over sponsorship issues include the Fields Open in Hawaii and Ginn Tribute in South Carolina. The Ginn Tribute shut down in August, and officials at Broken Arrow in Tulsa, Okla. announced Tuesday their event, sponsored by SemGroup, would not continue.
An event in Thailand is being added from Feb. 26 to March 1, part of what amounts to two international swings toward the beginning and end of the yearlong schedule.
The Safeway International, which has been held in Arizona, is also gone over a sponsorship issue and essentially becomes the LPGA International in the Phoenix area. The Safeway Classic, at Pumpkin Ridge in Oregon, remains on the 2009 slate.
Also missing from the schedule released Wednesday are the after-season events, such as the Lexus Cup and Wendy's 3-Tour Challenge. Bivens said those unofficial-money events will continue getting talked about "in the coming months."
"It's a scary time for everybody," 2007 U.S. Women's Open champion Cristie Kerr said. "My whole outlook on that is you've just got to be able to ride the waves."
Next year will be one of transition for the LPGA, which is about to lose its biggest draw in Annika Sorenstam, the 72-time winner who is "stepping away" from the game to pursue family and business interests after this week's ADT Championship.
The LPGA's existing television deals expire after 2009, making the task of filling schedules for 2010 and beyond even more daunting.
"I wish this economic downturn had waited one more year," said Bivens. "I wish we had one more year. But I'm grateful we had the past three."
The average per-tournament purse of about $1.77 million remains largely unchanged.
Next year's LPGA schedule begins in Hawaii, then heads to Thailand, Singapore and Mexico, not returning to the U.S. until the Phoenix event from March 26-29, details of which have yet to be released.
Some events shifted slots from the 2008 schedule, others changed sponsors and details are still being finalized about the Samsung World Championship, which was in Cleveland this year.
One quirk to the 2009 schedule: The U.S. Women's Open starts July 9, followed by the Evian Masters, the British Open and the Solheim Cup. So it's possible that a player who isn't qualified for those events wouldn't play between the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic (which ends July 5) and the Safeway Classic (which starts Aug. 28).
"Given what could have been the potential negative economic impact on our schedule, we view this as a barometer of stability, appeal and value for our players and our property," Bivens said.