Alex Baldwin, who became president of the Korn Ferry Tour in late January 2019, has recently reminded her boss, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan, of a simple truth.
“This wasn’t in the playbook,” Baldwin has jokingly said to Monahan.
In Baldwin’s 15 months in charge of the Korn Ferry Tour, the organization has:
- brought on a new title sponsor;
- been forced to suspend tournament competition for at least three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic;
- had to reconstruct its 2020 schedule, which includes the cancellation of six events that were either new to the schedule or had new title sponsors;
- turned two years into one season, rolling the truncated 2020 schedule and the 2021 schedule into one;
- and, had to put off giving 50 promotions to the PGA Tour for a year because once the PGA Tour decided all currently eligible players would maintain their status through the 2020-21 season, there were no spots for Korn Ferry players to take.
That’s just the simple version of all that has happened as Baldwin and the tour work toward a scheduled restart June 8-14 at the Korn Ferry Challenge at TPC Sawgrass.
“It’s a massive endurance game,” said Baldwin, who joined the PGA Tour as vice president of corporate partnerships in 2017.
Baldwin, the first female president of any of the PGA Tour’s six global tours, began her career at IMG where she represented Karrie Webb and Suzann Pettersen, among other players. From there, Baldwin worked with Monahan at Fenway Sports Management then moved to CAA where she worked closely with tournament sponsors.
In announcing Baldwin’s promotion to president last year, Monahan called it “a watershed moment for our organization.”
“It feels like ‘subject to change’ are always among the first words out of my mouth.” – Alex Baldwin
It is a path that seemed destined to lead Baldwin to where she is today but what she has encountered is, well, unprecedented. It has required imagination, patience, empathy and toughness, among other characteristics. As good as Baldwin feels about where the Korn Ferry Tour is as its restart draws nearer, the adjustments and planning are still going strong.
“It feels like ‘subject to change’ are always among the first words out of my mouth,” Baldwin said.
The Korn Ferry Tour was six events into its 2020 season when it screeched to a halt. When it resumes, assuming there are no further delays, it will have a 23-event schedule this year. The first four tournaments will be played without spectators.
The players who rank among the top 10 money winners at the end of the Korn Ferry Championship in August will be granted access to all PGA Tour additional (also called opposite) events through next season.
It’s far from full tour privileges but it’s another incentive for players whose careers have been interrupted. Like before, any player that wins three Korn Ferry events in one year will earn an automatic promotion to the PGA Tour.
“Our eligibility is in lockstep with the PGA Tour’s eligibility,” Baldwin said. “For us to put 50 players on the PGA Tour, 50 players have to come off.
“The PGA Tour determined they could crown a FedEx Cup championship but with the limited number of events being played they couldn’t constitute a regular season. We looked at the Korn Ferry graduates from 2019, how many events they’ve played so far and how many more events they could play through the Tour Championship and the number fell short. It didn’t give them a realistic chance to compete and regain their status for next year.
“These guys are playing for a lot more than a paycheck, though today that paycheck is more important than ever. I feel really really good about our schedule.”
The Korn Ferry Tour is built on events staged in small or mid-market areas and while the numbers may not be as substantial as on the PGA Tour, the impact on communities and charities remains critical to the developmental tour’s mission.
Hospitality and the pro-am experience are essential to the success of Korn Ferry Tour events and Baldwin, along with her staff and player advisors, have worked to maintain the financial stability of tournaments.
The Price Cutter Charity Championship played in Springfield, Mo., Baldwin said, raised approximately $900,000 for local charities last year and the challenge is to continue to raise money for charities with a forced change in the tournament model this year.
Monahan is unwavering in his confidence that Baldwin will rise to the challenge.
“Alex has proven to be a thoughtful, trusting and innovative leader throughout her career, and her first year as Korn Ferry Tour president certainly demonstrated those traits and more,” Monahan said. “Alex and her team successfully on-boarded Korn Ferry as the Tour’s umbrella sponsor and strategically added tournaments in untapped markets, and are currently navigating the Tour and its players through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“They continue to work toward elevating the Tour in all aspects, with a primary focus being the use of innovation for presenting Korn Ferry Tour golf to our fans.”
Baldwin is confident about the plan she has in place to move forward, though adjustments will continue for the foreseeable future.
The goal is to start play again in just more than four weeks, an aspirational target but one Baldwin believes can be reached.
“The next couple of days are really important for us as we finalize the operational plan,” Baldwin said. “There are a lot of precautions and considerations we need to take. It feels like what we’re able to accomplish in a day we accomplished in a month in our previous life.
“I’m encouraged. I think creating an environment in our backyard with the resources of the PGA Tour here, I feel confident we can create a safe environment.”
On an almost daily basis, Baldwin is in touch with individual players about what the tour is doing. She sends out a weekly e-mail to players updating the progress and she is inspired by the commitment she senses from players.
As for being one of the top female executives in golf, Baldwin doesn’t dwell on that distinction.
“I’m certainly very proud to have this opportunity,” she said. “I give it everything I’ve got and I’m incredibly passionate about what I do.
“I’m proud to be a woman in business. I love working with great people and seeing them continue to rise and grow. I’m eager to see more women in sports management roles in our sport and across all sports.
“To me, it’s not about gender, it’s about how we treat each other and how we interact. It’s about that respect and encouragement and growth as individuals.”
Alex Baldwin is interviewed in January 2019 at the New York Stock Exchange. Photo: Jamie McCarthy, Getty Images
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