PGA/LPGA Joint Initiative

    In early March, the PGA and LPGA announced plans to form a “long-term written strategic alliance agreement designed to further promote the growth of golf.” This move came on the heels of a similar announcement earlier in the week by the European governing bodies (R&A and LGU). While the R&A and the LGU announced an actual merger, the PGA and the LPGA message made it clear that each will remain independent, autonomous organizations.

    Many observers have noted while the professional game, especially on the men’s side, is as strong as ever, recreational golf is facing a host of challenges after a strong growth phase during the 2000’s.

    Give tour officials credit. They recognize that growing the game of golf is not a gender-specific endeavor. The collaboration should provide some nice synergies between the two organizations. The LPGA could learn a lot from the PGA’s marketing force. Similarly, the LPGA has proven itself to be a more global tour, attracting top international players and hosting tournaments across several continents.

    The joint effort is said to focus on coordination of schedules (avoiding the hosting of premier tournaments that overlap each other too closely), digital media, joint marketing and the possible development of joint-tournaments which would include PGA and LPGA members in the same field.

    Another possibility could include the same venue hosting back-to-back championship events. In 2014, Pinehurst #2 hosted the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open consecutive weeks. While the U.S.G.A. wrote this off to a scheduling glitch, it may have been a sort of marketing experiment. Seeing the best men and women tee it off at the same course was interesting, and regular viewers obviously knew the golf course extremely well as they watched the second tournament.

    The intrigue of actual joint events, where men and women would either play individually or on teams also has been bandied about. The LPGA Tour includes a number of young American women who have competed well against the dominant wave of women coming out of South Korea. The cold, hard truth is not nearly as many people are watching LPGA events as PGA events. If the PGA’s marketing muscle can bring more patrons and eyeballs to LPGA tournaments, the impact would be important. And, given the faithful viewership the PGA enjoys, a couple of joint tournaments each year would likely expose the LPGA’s biggest stars to a whole new group of viewers who simply choose not to watch the women’s game right now.

    Any success in increasing LPGA viewership would help the LPGA address the issue of prize compensation relative the PGA Tour. Stacy Lewis has been a leading voice for increasing LPGA Tour prize money. The economic reality is that the PGA Tour reaps significantly more sponsorship, television and individual tournament revenue and is in a position to pay their players more. It’s no different than the disparity between NFL stars and NHL stars. There is only so large a pot of revenue to divide up; the key to increasing prize money is growing a larger pool of revenue to work from. Increasing viewership for LPGA events is critical to securing more lucrative sponsorship dollars going forward, which would translate into larger purses for LPGA events.