News & ToursJuly 14, 2009

Bivens' first tournament victim speaks out

For 21 years, Larry Harrison ran the ShopRite LPGA Classic outside Atlantic City, N.J., a run that ended in 2006 when LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens gave the tournament's early June date to Bobby Ginn for his new tournament, the Ginn Tribute, Hosted by Annika. Unable to compromise on another viable date, Harrison opted out, killing off a popular staple of the LPGA schedule.

Since then, Harrison has been watching with dismay the LPGA and its mounting problems that led finally to Bivens' ouster on Monday.

"It didn't surprise me at all," Harrison said from his New Jersey home. "I had talked to several players and kept asking them, 'Why aren't the players revolting? Why aren't they doing something?'"

The ShopRite LPGA Classic was the first of the popular and successful small-market tournaments to meet its demise under Bivens' stewardship. Since then, the LPGA Corning Classic is done, while the Michelob Ultra Open, the Wegmans LPGA and the Jamie Farr Owens Corning Classic are without contracts for 2010 and are facing their demise.

"What she didn't understand is that the LPGA was really a strong, small-market tour, where a community would put everything behind an event. She came out with exorbitant numbers that noboby could afford, like charging for their leaderboards."

She also brought the McDonalds LPGA Championship in house, sans McDonalds.

"I guess she was bucking heads with McDonalds from the beginning," Harrison said. "She got what she wanted. She got the tournament. But she's a year out and doesn't have a venue, doesn't have a sponsor. She has no volunteer system in place and they have a major in a year. How are they going to do this? If they don't have a major sponsor for an event, they'll lose millions.

"What she didn't understand about running a tournament is that operationally every single tournament loses money. You just don't raise enough money through your gallery, especially the LPGA. They have to make it with good sponsor. We had a good sponsor.

"I think the LPGA is deeply in trouble. Whoever comes in now has to do a patchup job. That's their first order of business. They have to try to retain tournaments they've still got, instead of looking forward."

The future is bleak, he said, but it is not necessarily hopeless. Harrison would not be surprised to see the Corning Classic resurrected now that Bivens is gone, "if someone with a level head went in and said, 'OK, what will it take to get Corning back, let's lay it on the table?'"

Meanwhile, Wegmans officials suddenly are hopeful that they can reach an agreement with the LPGA on continuing their tournament, according to this story today in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

Harrison, too, is among those who support the idea of a merger with the PGA Tour. "If it could come under the umbrella of the PGA Tour, think of the synergy there. They wouldn't need need all those office buildings in Daytona Beach. Everything already is in place. The LPGA could save so much money on infrastructure that could be put that into rebuilding their tour. To me it would be a no brainer.

"I don't want to see them fail. My wife (Ruth) and I put 21 years into that tour."

-- John Strege

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