The LPGA Tour's flagship event, the LPGA Championship, will undergo a bold transformation when it is renamed the KPMG Women's PGA Championship next year, the LPGA Tour, KPMG and the PGA of America will announce Thursday.
The revamped tournament brings not only new money to the table for the tour -- the purse, which is $2.25 million for the Wegmans LPGA Championship this year, will climb to $3.5 million in 2015 -- but also greater coverage for women's golf. In addition to Golf Channel televising Thursday and Friday play, weekend rounds will be aired on NBC.
The five-year deal calls for next year's event to be played at Westchester Country Club 35 minutes north of New York City. The tournament will travel, with no permanent home, but the preference for KPMG is to play it in the New York area as often as possible.
On the years when the men's tour has majors in that area, Chicago, Houston and Atlanta are cities KPMG, the tax and auditing giant that has endorsement deals with Phil Mickelson and Stacy Lewis, would consider.
The move deepens the relationship between the LPGA and the PGA of America, whose 27,000 teaching members have formed an alliance with the LPGA Teaching and Club Pro Division.
"This elevates women's golf and LPGA exposure," LPGA commissioner Mike Whan told GolfDigest.com.
Discussion of rebranding the event began when Whan called then PGA of America CEO Joe Steranka in 2010. "I said let's do something together to promote women in the game," Whan says. "But we were not in a strong position then. Then in October of last year I called [current CEO] Pete [Bevacqua] and he said, 'I'm already thinking about it.' "
As Bevacqua looks at the overall health of the game and the golf industry, he sees women as a key component for future growth. Female golfers play only 15 percent of all rounds in the United States.
By naming the event the KPMG Women's PGA Championship, the PGA of America strengthens its position in the women's game and gains a professional event to go along with the PGA Championship, Senior PGA and its club pro championships. It also reaffirms the point the association made when it took its stand against the USGA and R&A over the issue of banning the anchored putting stroke that it wants a greater say in the future of the game.
"Of all of the things we have accomplished over the last year and a half this is the one I am most excited about," Bevacqua says. "For us [as an association], this is consistent with our mission, to serve our members and to grow the game. We need to bring more women to golf and reach a more diverse constituency. We wanted to do something very big and very exciting for the women's game."
The LPGA Championship is the second-oldest continuous women's major behind the U.S. Women's Open. Since its debut in 1955, it has always had the letters "LPGA" in its title through a series of sponsors that have included Eve, Mazda, McDonald's and now Wegmans. Removing them came with some consternation.
"We asked ourselves what majors need to do to be around 50, 100 years from now because longevity is what they are all about," says Whan, the partnership with the PGA of America achieving that. "Certainly, the toughest part has been the name change, but it's best for the tour."
Whan enlisted a powerful group including Annika Sorenstam, Nancy Lopez and Dottie Pepper to endorse the move. Key also was Karrie Webb, a member of the LPGA Board and an outspoken advocate for the tour and the women's game.
"As someone who loves the tradition of the game, it will be tough to see the name change away from LPGA Championship, but it's comforting that the traditions, legacy, and opportunities for our members will still remain," Webb says. "For younger players on tour, they can be confident that this tremendous championship will continue for decades to come, and be bigger and better than ever before."
The most dynamic aspect of the new relationship between the LPGA, the PGA of America and KPMG is the desire to use the tournament as a vehicle to celebrate women in business. A key component of the event will be a daylong summit Tuesday of tournament week that promotes discussion of women in business and golf.
"KPMG is proud to take on this groundbreaking sponsorship and to work with the LPGA, the PGA of America and NBC to inspire today's and tomorrow's women leaders," said John Veihmeyer, Global Chairman of KPMG. "This collaboration will not only bring women's golf to new audiences -- it also creates opportunities to expand women's leadership on and off the course, empowering today's women leaders and cultivating the next-generation of female leaders."
"KPMG is visionary," Whan says. "It's great to have a partner who sees a
bigger picture than you do. They said this doesn't work for us unless
it helps women outside the ropes as well as inside the ropes."
Whan, who took over as LPGA commissioner in 2010 and has brought the tour back from a low of 23 tournaments in 2011 to 32 this year, plus the International Crown team competition, says he is now comfortable with the playing schedule.
"Purse increases and network TV exposure are the next step for us," Whan says. "Golf Channel is great for us, but I don't really get the casual fan. I want people going around the dial to see Jessica Korda or Hee-Kyung Seo and stop and sample the product."
Certainly, with the U.S. Women's Open purse going to $4 million this year and even higher in 2015 and now with the KPMG Women's PGA Championship with its $3.5 million and NBC exposure, Whan has the ball bouncing in the right direction.
With this innovative move, three impressive organizations have come together to create one great tournament -- and have acted for the greater good of the overall game of golf.