Pressel, LPGA Head To Kapalua

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - July 25, 2007
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The good news is that Hawaii is getting another LPGA event. The bad news is that it’s at the wrong time. While any new tour stop is good for both the state and the LPGA, not all tee times are created equal. And while the Kapalua LPGA Classic works perfectly into the resort’s plans, a February time slot would have more wide-ranging benefits.

One of the reasons the SBS Open at Turtle Bay and Fields Open in Hawaii (at Ko Olina) have succeeded is that the two tour stops have benefited from each other’s company. Lacking the uber-rich purses and endorsement packages that are typical of the PGA Tour, saving money while on tour is a major attraction. Players have benefitted from the schedule that provides for two pay days while incuring no travel costs. Add in the LPGA’s newest event and thereby mimicking the PGA’s Florida, Texas and California swings and it just gets better. More money, less travel and a bigger and better playing fields would only add to the success of each event. As for the LPGA, which unlike the PGA has to pay for its TV coverage, reducing production travel costs is of major importance.

Another bonus of a February start time is that the LPGA would not have to change its schedule, which it will be forced to do next year. The Kapalua event is to be held either the week of Oct. 6-12 or 13-18 as a stop off before the tour heads to South Korea, Thailand and Japan. These dates conflict with the Longs Drugs Challenge and the Samsung World Championship, which means somebody’s going to be dumped or moved. Not that this has bothered LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens in the past.

While an early season tour-ney has its advantages, Kapalua was looking at a fall date from day one.

“We have the Mercedes Championship in January, which kicks off the PGA Tour season and we prefer to have a gap between the LPGA and the Tour,” said Kapalua’s senior vice president for resort operations, Gary Planos. “It gives the resort a chance to exhale and put their makeup on and what we are trying to do is the fall, which used to be a pretty busy time here when Kapalua and Kaanapali used to have back to back events, has turned out to be a kind of a dead zone, a real slow period and what we’re trying to do is eliminate that and create some excitement and lift for the fall.”

One of the things Kapalua is betting on is that as the final full field official money event on the schedule, golfers will be looking for one final pay day before either calling it a season or continuing on to Asia.

They are also counting on Morgan Pressel, who the resort signed to be its official LPGA touring professional, to not only bring in the crowds, but her friends on tour as well.

“We needed a connection with this new breed of player, and we think that Morgan will be out there 25 weeks a year and she gives us the connection and can help us in recruiting and positioning the event,” Planos said.

While we can debate the effectiveness of the dates, the signing of Pressel is without doubt a smart decision. Outside of world No. 1 Lorena Ochoa, who may have her own tour stop in Mexico next year, and Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam, already a tournament host, it would be hard to find anyone better to help market the event than the talented and attractive Pressel, who in just her sophomore year on tour has already won a major and could easily become the face, personality and fashion diva of the tour. Another possibility for Kapalua could have come from South Korea, a nation booming with young golf talent with a natural connection to Hawaii. At this time, however, Planos said they were not yet ready to head overseas. But if that changes, choices many including young Mi Hyun Kim, the glamorous Grace Park or future Hall of Famer and Korean golf hero Se Ri Pak. A Japan connection, though smaller in available talent but with a greater possible economic impact, could be aided by adding Ai Miyazato.

Now that we have the LPGA’s attention, Ms. Bivens, as long as you’re doing your yearly reshuffling, it’s time to take a look at your majors.

Holding the McDonald’s LPGA Championship presented by Coca-Cola and the U.S. Womens Open just two weeks apart in June and the Ricoh Women’s British Open just four weeks later is a tremendous waste. Golf is all about the majors, and things work best when they are spread out. It’s all about the anticipation. The four year wait between Olympics is what makes it so special. At least it used to until it was changed to alternating summer/winter games every two years.

Just something to chew on.

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