These are divisive times on the PGA Tour. Some of the most recognizable names are agitating to start their own circuit, and the most glamorous tournament is threatening to write its own rules. The LPGA has always been smaller in scope than the Tour, but last weekend it proved to have a larger perspective. Faced with its own crises—disappearing tournaments, falling TV ratings—LPGA players and officials chose not to fight their battles in the media but rather behind closed doors in a series of mandatory meetings in Phoenix. Proving that sisterhood is indeed powerful, the LPGA emerged energized and focused on not only surviving but also thriving.
The LPGA officially called the three-day get-together a Player Summit This wasn't exactly Gorbachev-Reagan, but the pre-announced $10,000 fine for un-excused absences conveyed a level of seriousness that was duly noted by the players—178 showed up for what Lori Kane called "the most important meetings in the history of the LPGA."
Beginning last Friday afternoon, the Sheraton Crescent Hotel was crawling with players toting matching black attach� cases, each affixed with the association's logo and crammed with information on seminars and featured speakers. Small discussion groups were configured to bring together players from opposite ends of the money list, and topics ranged from ad campaigns to tournament operations. "I had the chance to talk with players who I might not have been able to before," says Annika Sorenstam. "Listening to their ideas and problems gave me a better understanding of this tour's needs."
Two key short-term goals were hammered out: improve television viewership by 10% and tournament attendance by 15%. On Sunday commissioner Ty Votaw talked about jazzing up future telecasts with expanded use of player microphones and an interactive alliance between lpga.com and the TV networks. To improve the gate the LPGA will adopt a bylaw requiring its top 90 independent contractors (that is, the players) to visit every tournament at least once in a four-year cycle beginning in 2003. This will ensure that small-market fans get to see big-name players. All of these initiatives fall under a new slogan, Fans First.
Votaw also outlined a five-year plan that owes less to Chairman Mao than to David Stern. Taking a page from the NBA's marketing strategy, the LPGA will actively promote its players, not just the game they play. "If each of them is more marketable," says Votaw, "the overall product can only thrive and be more successful."
The weekend ended on a rousing note with an impromptu motivational speech by Nancy Lopez, the grande dame of the LPGA. Tears streaking her cheeks, Lopez, 45, implored her colleagues to redouble their passion for and devotion to the tour, and her heartfelt words brought down the house. "This was a great experience for me," Lopez says. "I gained a tremendous amount of faith in something that I was losing faith in."