The RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup that kicks off the U.S.-based portion of the LPGA schedule in March is either a great idea, a dangerous precedent or a desperation move, depending on how you look at it -- or all three. Here's the deal. A field of 132 players will participate March 18-20 at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Resort & Spa in a tournament at which all of the $1.3 million purse is going to charity. The tour calls it "a mock purse." And what is the benefiting charity? The LPGA Foundation's LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program. Essentially, the tour members are doing a benefit for the tour.
The players will get points for the Rolex World Ranking, Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and the dollars won will count on the money list. There just will be no direct deposit made into the player's checking account. Now the fact the Founder's Cup will raise money to help with a grow-the-game program is a good thing -- in fact, it is a great thing. It would be nice to see PGA Tour players participate in an event in which all their money went to benefit junior golf. But the dilemma for the LPGA is that with so few full-field, U.S.-based events, having one in which there is no prize money is extremely inconvenient, to say the least.
The 2011 schedule released Thursday has 12 events outside the United States and of those, only the CN Canadian Women's Open and the Tres Marias Championship in Morelia, Mexico are full-field non-majors. And there is a good chance the Mexico event will not be played for security reasons. In short, the number of opportunities for second-tier LPGA players to earn a paycheck are extremely limited. During one stretch -- from June 23 to July 31 -- there are four events on the schedule, three of which are major championships broken up by two off weeks. Those four events have $11.5 million of the $43.85 million total LPGA purse for the year.
The purse-free Founder's Cup will provide complimentary hotel rooms for the players, rooms for caddies to share and a stipend to help with caddie fees. Mostly, the tournament doubles the number of domestic events before the Kraft Nabisco Championship, the first major of the year -- from one to two. Even counting the Founders Cup, which has no prize money, and the Mexico event, which likely won't happen, there are six off weeks from the start of the season Feb. 17-20 in Thailand through May 15.
"I fully expect this to be a one-of-a-kind event that you will be talking about all season," commission Mike Whan said about the Founders Cup in an email to LPGA members obtained by GolfDigest Digital. He can count on the fact that it will be much discussed, but he may not always like the direction of the conversation. But for a tour that has fought for its life the entire 61 years of its existence, holding a benefit for itself might be the only alternative.
-- Ron Sirak