[lg policy] LPGA Tour ’s Future Clouds U.S. Women’s Open (and language policy is still a problem)

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Jul 9 14:59:34 UTC 2009

Tour’s Future Clouds U.S. Women’s Open
Rich Graulich/Palm Beach Post, via Associated PressIt has been a
difficult year for the L.P.G.A. Tour in general and for Commissioner
Carolyn Bivens in particular.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — It was supposed to be an opportunity to celebrate
professional women’s golf, a chance for the best players on the
L.P.G.A. Tour to vie for a major championship. Instead, a mood of
uncertainty seemed to envelop Saucon Valley Country Club, the site of
the United States Women’s Open, because of continuing concerns among
players about the direction of the tour under Commissioner Carolyn
Bivens. On Wednesday, players, sponsors and tour officials spent time
addressing — or declining to comment about — off-the-course issues
regarding Bivens’s job status. L.P.G.A. officials said Bivens would
not comment on the issue at this tournament, which begins Thursday.

“It’s not in the best interest of women’s golf to openly discuss
internal matters, but you can rest assured that the L.P.G.A. and its
board of directors consider any topic raised by the players seriously
since we are a player organization,” David Higdon, the L.P.G.A.’s
chief communications officer, said in a statement. “There are always
differences of opinion on business matters, and as they arise, we
resolve them as best we can in order to further the business of the

At the heart of the discussion was a report from Golfweek on Monday
that up to 15 players — including stars like Lorena Ochoa, Paula
Creamer, Morgan Pressel and Cristie Kerr — met recently to discuss the
tour’s future. The meeting came days after the tour announced the loss
of yet another tournament amid the slumping economy, the seventh event
to vanish since 2007. Some of the players who met signed a letter and
sent it to the board, expressing dissatisfaction with Bivens. Five of
the seven players who sit on the L.P.G.A.’s 13-member board were in
favor of removing Bivens, according to a report on Tuesday by Golf
World magazine. Seven votes are needed to remove Bivens, who is also a
board member.

“We, as players, we want to be more involved in what is happening, and
we want to see the tour going in a better direction,” Ochoa, the
tour’s player of the year for the past three years, said Wednesday.
Referring to the tour’s board, she added: “There’s not much we can do.
I believe they will do the best for us. And hopefully things will
start, you know, moving in a good direction, because we are worried
that we’re losing tournaments and we want to get back on a good

It has been a difficult year for the L.P.G.A. Tour in general and for
Bivens in particular. Last August, Bivens introduced a proposal that
foreign-born players with two years’ experience on the tour be
proficient in English or face suspension beginning in 2009. The
language policy — believed at the time to be the only one of its kind
in a major sport — was widely seen as aimed at the large group of
Asian players on the tour. After receiving criticism from some
players, civil rights groups and even lawmakers, Bivens and the tour
reversed course and dropped plans to suspend players.

Beyond that debate, however, concerns have grown in the past year
about the tour’s overall health. When Bivens became commissioner in
2005, the L.P.G.A. had 35 tournaments. That number decreased to 28
before the tour announced that the Kapalua L.P.G.A. Classic would not
be played this year.

The tour has lost three events in Hawaii this year and will not play
another event in the United States until the end of August. It has
only 10 contracts with title sponsors for the 2010 tour, and the
status of at least three other events is uncertain. The tour also lost
important backing from McDonald’s, which was the title sponsor of the
L.P.G.A. Championship for 16 years.

Despite the weak economy, Bivens has asked tour sponsors to share a
greater part of the costs of holding tournaments, according to
multiple news accounts. For example, Bivens has asked sponsors to
contribute more money to the tour’s electronic scoring system, which
can cost up to $100,000 to maintain at a tournament.

Fewer tournaments and fewer sponsors mean less prize money for the
players. The prospect of losing even more tournaments has created an
uneasy feeling among those on the tour.

Representatives of sponsors that have contracts with the United States
Golf Association, which runs the United States Women’s Open, said they
were unconcerned with the controversy.

Players like Creamer and Kerr said they did not want to comment
publicly on the leadership issues because of the Open’s status as a
U.S.G.A. event.

“Our player organization is very focused on how these difficult
economic times affect our tour,” Kerr said on Tuesday. “And we are
actively working with our executive board of management to create the
best product for our partners and fans, so let’s talk about the U.S.
Open this week.”

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