By Mike Dougherty
Michelle Wie understands the worldwide impact of a New York minute. She quickly agreed to a well-choreographed victory lap in the big city not long after celebrating a breakthrough win a month ago at the U.S. Women’s Open.
The cameras zoomed in on each moment of the frenzy.
“Going to New York City off a major championship win is not a new concept,” said IMG director of communications Mike Scanlan, who pitched the idea to Wie as the celebration raged at Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina. “It’s one-stop shopping in terms of national media.”
With each stop, Wie generated a little more buzz. And that is exactly why the inaugural KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is coming to Westchester Country Club next June.
Is there a place anywhere on the globe better suited?
KPMG will be able to network with top female executives from business, politics and sports who live and work here. The LPGA Tour will have a moment in the spotlight to promote a roster of players that is again worthy of attention. The PGA of America will be able to promote the game’s virtues to decision makers on the homefront. And Westchester Country Club in Harrison will have a chance to display its West Course in high definition to a network audience.
It’s a demographic dreamland.
“New York City is the No. 1 market for everything,” said Scott Seymour, managing director of golf for Octagon, a sports and entertainment marketing firm that formerly managed the JAL Big Apple Classic. “It’s the No. 1 market for media. It’s the No. 1 market for corporations. The LPGA wants to be in this market in a big way.”
The news conference to announce the newest major championship was held in May on the iconic Saturday Night Live stage, and the reaction was largely positive.
“We really don’t have many events in this area, and I probably can count the number of times on one hand that I’ve played in New York in a tournament,” said 11-time LPGA Tour winner Stacy Lewis, who is the No. 1-ranked women’s player in the world. “To be in a big market like this, especially the first year, being close to New York, with all of the media outlets, the partnership with NBC, it’s a perfect place to start. I haven’t played Westchester yet, so I’m excited to get there and check it out, but I’ve heard really great things about it.”
Several past and present LPGA Tour stars were called to lend public support.
“I think it’s awesome,” Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez said before being honored in June at the Metropolitan Golf Writers Dinner. “New York and New Jersey were always so good to me. There are so many beautiful golf courses in the region and so many true golf fans up here, so this is a tremendous move.”
Plenty of positives
There wasn’t a lot of drama over the decision to retire the LPGA Championship, which had been looking for a new title sponsor to replace supermarket giant Wegmans. The tournament will be played for the last time in August in Pittsford, outside Rochester.
“Adding the Women’s PGA Championship is prominent,” LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan said. “It sends a message that we are not just evolving this championship — we are elevating it. You will see all the history and tradition of the LPGA Championship if you come or watch this on TV. We are respecting that, and you will see that throughout the venue. But the name will become slightly different and so will the championship.”
The purse will be elevated to $3.5 million, and the final two rounds will be carried by NBC, a move that will double the number of women’s professional tournaments on network television.
“I really believe that’s important,” said Debbie Doniger, the director of instruction at GlenArbor Golf Club in Bedford who is an LPGA Class A teaching professional. “While the LPGA has great momentum right now, sometimes it’s hard to find on TV.”
Whether or not the broadcasts inspire the next generation of female golfers, there is value in playing to a national audience.
“That is not something we can poll,” Metropolitan Golf Association executive director Jay Mottola said. “My guess is that it will get people’s attention. Sometimes that will translate into increased activity but that would be hard to measure. Getting national coverage sheds a positive light on golf in the area. Since the PGA of America and the LPGA only bring major events to great courses, it speaks well of Westchester.”
The players love getting a chance to compete on a course the PGA Tour visited for 40 years.
“You know, there’s so many courses that are going away from the male-only deal, and we should go play these courses,” Lewis said. “The guys get the perfect greens every week, and perfectly manicured golf courses. I mean, I would love to play on those every single week. From the players’ side, we are super excited about it. And just to play a course that has history, that has tradition, is famous, that people, they say the name and everybody knows what it is, that’s where we should be playing.”
Despite the advantages the New York metropolitan area offers, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is not taking up residence. It will rotate among marquee venues in other major corporate markets, such as Chicago and Los Angeles.
“I would tell you that it’s critical from our perspective … to really take this event to the very best golf courses in the country,” said PGA of America executive director Pete Bevacqua, a Bedford native. “And we think we are starting that off in the perfect spot for this event at Westchester Country Club, one of the great 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.”
The event might return at some point, and that raises a legitimate concern. Will fans support this endeavor? It shouldn’t be an issue filling the corporate suites but attracting the casual fan can be an ordeal in this market.
Wykagyl Country Club had a relationship with the LPGA Tour that spanned four decades but the galleries were sparse in 2007 when the HSBC World Match Play Championship showed up for a test run. Sebonack Golf Club in Southampton hosted the U.S. Women’s Open last summer but attendance figures were not impressive.
“I think it’s about timing,” Octagon’s Seymour said, noting his approval for the June 8-14 date. “If you hold a tournament here early in the summer or in the fall, you have a chance. This area seems to spend most of the summer months away. I think they have a really good date.”