It seems paradoxical to think that something that benefits women’s golf overall might hurt one of the LPGA’s flagship events. Yet that appears the potential result of the successful launch of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Or more precisely the scheduling of the event the same week as ANA Inspiration, the first major championship on the LPGA calendar.
Officials with the 48-year-old Rancho Mirage, Calif., tournament and the LPGA are expected to meet next month to discuss the long-term implications of the overlapping events, specifically lower TV ratings and lower on-course attendance. IMG runs the tournament, and listening to the company’s Chris Garrett, who serves as tournament director, it sounds like there’s a reasonable chance that the event could change dates to avoid competing for attention.
“At this point, I think it’s 50-50 we stay, 50-50 we move,” Garrett said in an interview last week with the Palm Springs Desert Sun.
The issue, of course, is when to reschedule ANA and the domino effect it might have on the rest of the LPGA schedule. Moving a tour event is more complex than just finding a spot on the calendar that makes sense. It’s also about making sure that the week doesn’t compete with a big PGA Tour event, or any large events in the location where the tournament is being played.
Golf World contacted the LPGA about moving the event, and officials said they had no comment until the follow-up meeting with the ANA happens, likely in late May.
Garrett noted in the Palm Springs Desert Sun story that nothing has yet been decided, and that he would hesitate to move unless he felt assured a better date was available.
“I’m not convinced moving to after Augusta [the Masters] is a better date,” Garrett said. “We’d be up against Coachella, Stagecoach, the number of golf fans in the desert has decreased, your volunteer base has gone home.”
That statement is full of complex issues for the ANA. Rancho Mirage, where the ANA takes place, is about 12 miles from Coachella's location. This is significant because 99,000 people attend Coachella each day, according to the L.A. Times. Stagecoach, a country music festival also 12 miles away from the ANA, attracts 70,000 people each day according to the same L.A. Times article. Obviously, with those numbers, it doesn’t make sense for any other event to happen at the same time as those music festivals.
If you look at the LPGA schedule before the ANA, there are conflicts the two weekends leading into the first major of the year, with the Kia Classic happening the weekend before and the Bank of Hope Founders Cup the weekend before that. Any move earlier on the calendar would require those events to move up as well.
And yet keeping the ANA in its current date will mean that it competes for attention with the new amateur event backed by Augusta National Golf Club. The inaugural ANWA became an entertaining duel between eventual champ Jennifer Kupcho and Maria Fassi. The show the two college seniors put on, both of whom deferred LPGA memberships they’d earned in the fall until after their graduations, resonated with fans on course and at home. The event achieved the highest overnight TV ratings for a women's golf event since 2016.
Conversely, the ANA saw a 56-percent drop in TV ratings for its Sunday final round on Golf Channel, according to Sports Media Watch, from 2018 (437,000 viewers) and 65-percent down from 2017 (551,000). On course attendance was also down about 10 percent from 2018, according to Garrett.
“If I am a tournament sponsor and I am ANA and looking at coverage that was given to ANWA by Golf Channel and certain media outlets,” Garrett told the Palm Springs Desert Sun, “I can understand their concerns that we are golf’s first major and they are feeling overshadowed by an event in its first year.”
The potential scheduling issue between the ANA and the ANWA arose almost immediately after the ANWA was announced. Five spots in the ANA are awarded to amateurs. There was some overlap on the list of top amateurs invited to play the ANA and the ANWA, resulting in players having to choose which event they wanted to play.
But now that the ANWA has found success and popularity, the question becomes more complicated than several amateurs having to choose between events.