When the news broke that Kraft Nabisco will end its sponsorship of the tournament formerly known as the Dinah Shore after 2014, no one winced. There was no panic, no spinning, no rampant speculation about the health and welfare of the golf season’s first major, and no hand-wringing about the future of the women’s professional game. The biggest anxiety came from some players who fretted that the free flow of Oreos was coming to an end.
My, how times have changed. Not too long ago, losing a major LPGA sponsor would have been met with doom-and-gloom predictions and calls for somebody’s head. Now, sponsors come and go, but the LPGA continues to grow in popularity and money.
That speaks volumes for commissioner Mike Whan, who knew last October that Kraft was calling it quits. In the short time since the news was made official, Whan has told anyone who would listen that there are no plans to move the tournament out of the California desert or away from the Dinah Shore Course at Mission Hills.
That announcement was met with a few nods and a shrug or two, but little more. Everyone in the game knows that Whan has put the tour on a trajectory where a sponsorship change is almost as ho-hum as a player putting a new putter in the bag.
That certainly was not the case four and a half years ago when Whan took over a league on the brink. The day Carolyn Bivens resigned as commissioner, the LPGA had 10 confirmed domestic tournaments and 21 overall. Today, the tour has 32 events, 18 of those played in the United States.
The season opens in January in the Bahamas and ends in November in Naples, Fla. In between, there is a schedule that makes geographic sense, with the ladies spending most of February in Asia and most of April on the West Coast before migrating east.
Airbus, Yokohama Tire, Manulife Financial, JTBC, Swinging Skirts and others are relatively new to the LPGA, with more corporate names likely to emerge in the coming weeks and months.
That is not to imply that replacing a sponsor isn’t hard work. In an economy that is anything but robust, corporate sports marketing budgets usually are among the first to be cut. But with the LPGA on the rise, the season’s first major is far from in peril.
Who knows, maybe someone will put Dinah back in the Dinah. That would certainly make up for the Oreos.