Maybe it's not goodbye for the LPGA Tour in Rochester, just “see you later.”
At least that was the vibe given off Monday by Commissioner Mike Whan during a news conference at Monroe Golf Club in Pittsford.
Last week, the Tour announced that the Wegmans LPGA Championship in August will become the KPMG Women's PGA Championship in 2015, rotating annually between courses – starting at Westchester Country Club outside New York City – and thus ending a 38-year run in Rochester.
So a day usually reserved for previewing the major tournament, which will be held from Aug. 14-17 at Monroe, instead became a stage for Whan to explain why the LPGA is leaving its longest-tenured market. As Whan himself said, “defending champion's day” – as the event is usually known – became “defending commissioner's day.”
“I'll admit, I'm a businessman. My job was to make sure women's golf continued to grow, no matter what the long-term future is,” he said.
From that perspective, it's easy to understand the move.
With an international company like KPMG on board, the purse in 2015 will increase to $3.5 million – the most of any women's event. The tournament's last two rounds will also be broadcast on NBC, joining the U.S. Women's Open as the only two events to be televised on a network channel. The possibility of the tournament rotating between other New York-area courses like Winged Foot and Shinnecock is strong.
“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,” said Pete Bevacqua, CEO of the PGA of America.
Again, that's understandable. Growing the game should be the focus of the LPGA Tour. But that it happened at the expense of its annual event in Rochester doesn't lessen the blow for a loyal bunch of fans who supported the Tour during its down years.
When the LPGA Championship lost its title sponsor in 2009, Wegmans stepped to the plate. That can be viewed as much as a good-will gesture for the community as an advertising strategy. The LPGA Championship is broadcast to more than 160 countries. The grocery store chain has locations in six states. It doesn't make sense for a regional company – even one as successful as Wegmans – to serve as a title sponsor given the cost it will take for the LPGA to see its vision fulfilled.
Whan credited Wegmans for giving the Tour enough time to come up with a plan when it became clear the company's time as a title sponsor was winding down.
“In my business, that doesn't happen. Usually somebody tells me at their last tournament, 'by the way, we can't do this next year.' To be given years to work together with them and with us to figure out what happens next is what works for women's golf,” Whan said. “After 38 years, calling it an end is almost humorous, because I think we're going to be ingrained in the community for a long time. When somebody brings you into their house for 38 years, it's no longer a business relationship, it's no longer a partnership, it's a family.”
So for now, a separation makes sense. But it shouldn't be a divorce.
“This was the right thing to do for the championship, because we had to find the next place, but are we done with Rochester? I sure hope not,” Whan said. “It would be strange for me to say we're not going to be back in Rochester long term, because I've seen it happen in the LPGA just in my five years, how many homecomings and how many markets we're back in, that we had left before.
“This has become part of our fabric. I'm going to work as hard as I can as the commissioner of the LPGA to figure a way back to Rochester in some way, shape or form.”
During Whan's tenure, the LPGA has added events in Hawaii, Alabama and Ohio – all markets that had a tournament at one time and lost it. So there's precedent for a return, but Wegmans has stated it has no plans to currently sponsor another tournament. A regular Tour event has a purse of about $1.5 million, so that means another corporation, or group of them, would need to step to the plate for that to happen.
Whan suggested that Rochester could host a Legends Tour or Symetra Tour event, or “some sort of open championship.”
That opens the possibility of the Women's PGA Championship one day making a return, or the Women's U.S. Open coming to town. Given the LPGA's goal of playing the country's best courses, undoubtedly they'd have their eyes on venerable Oak Hill Country Club, site of last year's PGA Championship.
In the short term, however, Whan wants to turn August's tournament into a celebration of the history of the LPGA in Rochester. Because of the family atmosphere – many players house with Locust Hill Country Club members, where the LPGA held its events the last 37 years – Whan expects the competitors to be as upset as the fans.
“Nobody is going to miss this place more than the LPGA, and nobody is more committed to coming back than we are,” he said. “You're going to have more tears from the players in 2014 at Monroe than you're probably going to have from the fans, because this is home for them, too.”
• The 2014 men's Porter Cup qualifier will be held June 23 at Niagara Falls County Club, with a rain date of June 24. The entry fee is $175 and includes one practice round. The tournament is open to anyone with a verified USGA handicap of 3 or less. The format is 18 holes of stroke play, with an exemption into the Porter Cup field for the low eight scores. For more information, call the NFCC pro shop at 285-1331, Dena Armstrong at 284-0431, or visit portercup.com.
• The Buffalo District Golf Association's fourth points event of the season was held Sunday at Elkdale Country Club in Salamanca. Bob Rosen, playing out of the Country Club of Buffalo, emerged as the gross champion after defeating Mike McNulty (Park CC) in a playoff. Each shot even-par 70. Elkdale's Dan Blaske was the net winner with a 65 (gross 81).
• The New York State Golf Association Foundation will award $30,000 in scholarships this year to state residents who are enrolled in two- or four-year college programs such as agronomy, turf grass management, professional golf and country club management or business management of golf. The deadline to apply is June 18. Those interested can call visit nysga.org or call (315) 471-6979 for more information.
• The News' series of tips with local professionals will begin next week. Local news of note is welcome at the email address below.