January 12, 2009

The LPGA's Challenge

From the moment she took over as LPGA Tour commissioner in 2005, Carolyn Bivens established a set of clear priorities: increasing revenue, increasing purses and, a particular passion, creating a better pension plan for players. Since then, she has devoted long hours, countless meetings and thousands of miles of travel to achieve those goals—only to now face challenges she couldn't have dreamed of when she assumed command.

Internally, her plan was known as "Vision 2010." The tour assumed ownership of first the ADT Championship and then the McDonald's LPGA Championship. Those events not owned by the tour had their sanctioning fees increased significantly. New sponsors came on with varied success, and more overseas tournaments were added to mixed reaction from the players.

This was to be a watershed year for the tour. About one-third of the tournament contracts expire in '09, as do the tour's TV deals with ESPN and Golf Channel. Now, through reasons completely outside its control—a global economic meltdown—the LPGA faces perhaps the most challenging season in its 59-year history.

The LPGA reacted by overhauling its business model last week to one that is both more targeted and more cost-efficient, trimming 5 percent of its staff, including chief operating officer Chris Higgs. Meanwhile, five executives were promoted in the Jan. 7 reorganization.

"The reorganization was driven by our strategic plan and our five strategic imperatives," Bivens said. "We set up the organization to deliver this new plan. The current economic environment simply provides another reason to evaluate the organizational structure and processes required to deliver the strategic plan as efficiently and effectively as possible."

Jane Geddes, a former player with a law degree, was promoted to senior vice president and will run tournament operations and player services. Zayra Calderon, CEO of the Duramed Futures Tour, will take on the added responsibilities of running new business development and worldwide sales.

Deputy commissioner Libba Galloway will head LPGA tournament and schedule development along with Mike Nichols, who was promoted to vice president of LPGA-sanctioned events. Nichols will develop the tour schedule, which promises to be a challenge for 2010 in this economy.

Kelly Hyne, executive director of the 2009 Solheim Cup at Rich Harvest Farms in Illinois, was made a vice president and will oversee LPGA properties. Both the ADT and the McDonald's LPGA events are looking for sponsors for 2010. The LPGA Tour also will run the Phoenix stop in March, which still needs a golf course.

Bivens' greatest success has been in expanding the tour internationally; this year's slate includes stops in Singapore, Thailand, China, Korea, Japan, Canada, France, England and three in Mexico.

Vision 2010 was always a bold step into the unknown. But, as for everyone, the unknown has become larger and scarier. And the challenges for the LPGA, in its most important year, have grown accordingly.