The recent spate of bad news regarding certain LPGA tournaments has raised concerns about the Tour’s well-being, especially in regards to its domestic status. There are now four U.S.-based events in various stages of doubt for 2009. Just this morning comes word that the Fields Corporation will not renew its sponsorship for the Hawaii event that bears its name. The Fields Open is now officially dead. Earlier this year, Safeway announced it would withdraw its sponsorship from the March event in Arizona and concentrate on its late summer event in Portland, Oregon. GolfWorld reported two weeks ago that the Ginn Tribute would not return in 2009 and the Ginn Open’s future beyond 2009 is uncertain. The week before that, SemGroup LP filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, putting its Tulsa event’s future in serious doubt. These are just the tournaments which have publicly announced their issues – there’s no telling how many of the others are keeping their struggles secret.
With these announcements and the unlikelihood that any suitable replacement sponsors can be found amongst the troubled American economy, the LPGA’s efforts to expand into Asian markets are a no-brainer. With the popularity of women’s golf soaring on that continent, the Tour can actually make some money off of its televised product instead of having to pay the U.S. networks for airtime. If not for the HSBC event in Singapore and the new October event in China, the Tour would be in serious do-do and I expect Commissioner Bivens to announce more events in the Far East in the coming months. Unfortunately this trend only exacerbates the “Asian Invasion” stigma that has many American fans and media up in arms. “We’re losing our Tour to the Asians”, they say. Well folks, if the Asians keep beating Americans on the course and have the cash to sponsor the events while we don’t, there ain’t a whole hell of a lot we can do about it. And if only a couple hundred thousand of us are going to watch one of the Tour’s major championships, maybe we deserve to lose it.
The U.S. economy will eventually turn around. It always has, sooner or later. The LPGA’s mission is to still be in existence when that time comes. Then perhaps we’ll see an increase in American events and maybe by then the American talent will have caught up to the new bar set by these “invaders”. In the meantime, I’ll continue to follow the LPGA and hope that you will too.