In a whirlwind media tour of New York this morning, LPGA commissioner Mike Whan, along with PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua, world No. 2 Stacy Lewis and a smattering of executives from KPMG and NBC Sports announced that the event known as the Wegman’s LPGA Championship not only will be giving up the Wegman’s sponsorship title, it will drop the LPGA from its name as well.
Beginning in 2015, the event will become the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. It will be played in June with the inaugural event kicking off at Westchester Country Club just a half-hour outside New York City and the former site of the Westchester Classic. Weekend coverage will be broadcast on NBC.
The timing couldn’t have worked out better. NBC executives, still smarting from losing the U.S. Open to Fox, were looking to expand their relationship with the PGA of America beyond the network’s Ryder Cup coverage. At the same time executives at Wegman’s, the regional grocery chain and longtime sponsor of the LPGA Championship in Rochester, N.Y., told Whan that he needed to be on the lookout for a replacement, maybe as early as 2015 but certainly by 2016.
That is when Whan called Bevacqua.
“I first called Pete and did what I typically do, which is started selling,” Whan said at the news conference at 30 Rockefeller Center. “He said ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, I’m already there; let’s meet halfway.’ And literally a week later we met halfway and started talking about this.”
The talks hit a momentary flinch point when it became apparent that the LPGA would have to give up its brand identity on the event – and if the initial news conference is any indication, all operational control as well – but Whan was confident that this is the right move.
“When Pete and I started talking about this, one of the things he talked about is, “If the PGA Championship is going to be involved with it we want to call it the PGA Championship,’ ” Whan said. “I did kind of a sigh and high five at the same time.
“(Pete) said ‘What was that?’ I said, ‘Losing the LPGA Championship is tough.’ But change is tough. Also adding ‘Women’s PGA Championship’ is prominent, it’s powerful and it sends a message that we are not just evolving this championship; we are elevating it.”
KPMG and NBC soon came on board, the latter to expand their broadcast coverage and the former because of its growing sponsorship in the game with Lewis and Phil Mickelson both under contract.
“I don’t care what you read or what you say, as near as I can tell, the people we are trying to get close to are as excited about golf today as they have ever been,” said John Veihmeyer, chairman of KPMG. “The interest is huge. When we run an event with Phil or Stacy, we are about five times over subscribed.
“Our biggest challenge is how we deal with the people we can’t get into the event. So golf has been a great platform for us. Frankly, we wouldn’t be part of this conversation today if it had not been for our relationship with Stacy and our introduction to Mike (Whan) at the LPGA over the last couple of years.”
The event will likely rotate locations. As Bevacqua put it:
“It’s critical from our perspective, certainly from the LPGA and LPGA players’ perspective, KPMG’s perspective, and quite honestly NBC and the Golf Channel to really take this event to the very best golf courses in the country. … Our ultimate goal is to combine the allure of a major market with the prestige of a championship golf course. That’s how we are heading into this.”
Lewis, who won the Ricoh Women’s British Open at St. Andrews last year and will be part of the field teeing off at Pinehurst No. 2 for the U.S. Women’s Open, is thrilled the LPGA finally is breaking through on courses traditionally reserved for men’s events.
“From the player’s side, we are super excited about it,” she said. “And just to play a course that has history, that has tradition, is famous; that people, when they say the name everybody knows what it is. That’s where we should be playing. That’s what we are going to get with this tournament.”
“Between purse size, business opportunity, venue opportunity, and what’s going to happen from a television partnership perspective, this is going to elevate women’s golf,” Whan said. “Maybe ‘Dream Team’ is overused but in my little world, I’m going to stick with Dream Team because I haven’t seen a team think bigger about women’s golf than we have in the last six months. I’m proud to be a part of it.”