Now the LPGA loses Kingsmill

The recession has taken another bite out of the shrinking LPGA Tour, the world’s leading women’s professional circuit.

The world-wide recession has taken another bite out of the shrinking LPGA Tour, the world’s leading women’s professional circuit.

On Monday the tour lost its popular Michelob Ultra Open, the seventh to go since 2007, when Anheuser-Busch announced that after a seven-year run it had decided that it would not be renewing its sponsorship of the event.

Dan McHugh, the Anheuser-Busch vice president, told the media that the company would continue to work with the LPGA, but had decided to spread its sponsorships over a wider range of professional golf events.

“We’re looking for a little bit more national scope,” he said.

After a lengthy analysis after the May event, he said. his company had decided to drop the Kingsmill event and instead to seek ways to “create a footprint in more tournaments.”

McHugh added that this would most likely be via hospitality opportunities rather than through major sponsorships.

Anheuser-Busch owns the Kingsmill Resort and Spa, where the PGA Tour made a stop for 22 years before the LPGA took over seven years ago. McHugh explained that the high costs of being the owner and operator of a tournament had also come in to consideration when the decision was taken.

This latest negative news is expected to be taken hard by the both players and specactors.

The players voted the event their favorite in 2007 and the fans as their favourite in 2008.

“The players were notified of the news early Monday,” Eric Albrecht, vice president of marketing for the Tour, confirmed.

“I think it’s a little bit of the reality of the sports sponsorship landscape,” he said, adding that the tour has “close to” 20 events confirmed for 2010 and is talking to potential sponsors, some of them new to women’s golf, about nine other events.

“Indeed as we move closer and closer to the 2010 schedule, we’re feeling better and better about the schedule,” Albrecht said.

“We feel good about where we are in September and we’re optimistic about the future, but we’re also being realistic and know that our 2010 schedule may not be what it was a couple of years ago.”

In 2007, the LPGA had 34 events on its tour. It had only 27 this year, and has since lost all three of its events in Hawaii along with some other sponsors including Corning, who had been with them for 31 years.

In July this year a group of leading players were becoming so alarmed by the number of events falling away, they wrote a letter calling for the head of tour commissioner Carolyn Bivens after four years.

The players felt the Tour’s problems could not all be explained by the weakened economy and that in some ways Bivens was to blame as well.

Bivens resigned a week later, and after a short period, was replaced on an interim basis by Marsha Evans, a retired rear admiral from the US Navy who has since headed up the American Red Cross and Girl Scouts of the USA.

Albrecht said that since the change, the news has been encouraging, including the announcement last week that Rolex will sponsor this year’s final event, the LPGA Tour Championship.

The US victory over Europe in the recent Solheim Cup had also helped.

“We’ve had a lot of companies begin to talk to us just since the Solheim Cup,” he said.

In the meantime, Anheuser-Busch’s McHugh said the decision not to renew their tournament sponsorship was not finalized until last week, and made it clear that if a major sponsor arose willing to bring the LPGA back to Kingsmill, his company would be “very receptive” to it.