Gratitude plays a large part in the golfers' loyalty to the 4-year-old tournament. "They've done so much for us," says Sandra Post, the blonde, 26-year-old Canadian who last December won one of Colgate's three new tournaments, the $72,000 Far East Ladies' Open in Melbourne.
"They" is really David R. Foster, the 54-year-old president of the $2.5 billion Colgate-Palmolive Company, the man who gave the world Irish Spring. Foster is a Cambridge-educated Anglo-American who once played to a two handicap and who looks like a balding, slightly stuffy British elf. He is a member of the Royal and Ancient and several other golf clubs here and in Great Britain, and he is an all-round sports buff who, according to an assistant, can name the winner of the shotput at the Melbourne Olympics as easily as he can come up with the sales potential of a new liquid detergent.
Foster got into women's sports in 1972 with the first Dinah Shore event. Colgate put up a $110,000 purse, the first six-figure prize money in an LPGA tournament, and Jane Blalock won $20,000. "We felt a larger purse would serve to upgrade women's golf, bring more young players into it and stimulate higher purses all down the line," says Foster. He did not add, but might have, that women's sports were a bargain then and still are.
"Until we got into golf," says Tina Santi, Foster's director of corporate communication, "nobody would touch women's sports with a 10-foot pole. Late last year we bought the women's freestyle ski tour for $90,000 in prize money. Nobody else wanted to sponsor it. We bought half an hour on ABC on Easter Sunday, and the show drew an eight rating, which was 50% better than we or ABC had forecast and which equaled the rating of an NBA game on at the same time." The Dinah Shore ranked sixth last year out of 31 televised golf events, ahead of both the Masters and the men's U.S. Open.
Though Colgate expanded into women's tennis, skiing and track last year and is looking into other sports, it still indulges the LPGA like a favored first child and probably will continue to do so, at least as long as David Foster is in charge. The purse for the Dinah Shore has doubled since 1972; Colgate has purchased the Mission Hills Golf and Country Club where the tournament is played to guarantee the conditioning of the course and to ensure its continued availability; and 36 pros, not just Laura Baugh, have been paid to do TV commercials for Colgate products and promotion for the tournament. Kathy Whitworth, who for eight years was the most successful female golfer in the world, is only lately learning what it is like to be recognized. She is shyly pleased when people recall only that she is "the Ajax lady."
There is concern, however, that the preeminence of Colgate is scaring other sponsors away. " Procter & Gamble, for instance, is a company that has a lot of money to spend on advertising," Palmer said after Saturday's round. "Now maybe they want to get into women's sports, but are scared of golf. Other companies think they're going to have to take a backseat to Colgate. It's unfortunate, but I think Sears might have backed out for that reason."
Sears was the sponsor of one of five $100,000 LPGA tournaments in 1974. Of the five, only the Colgate tournament and the Japan Classic offer $100,000 this year, and total prize money is down slightly from $1.8 million.
"We have to learn how a corporate executive thinks about things," says Carol Mann, the LPGA's unpaid president for the last two years. "We can't just go in and throw a player guide on an executive's desk. We have to get sophisticated." As part of her unending search for additional revenue, Mann is talking to TV people, licensing agents, book publishers and film makers. "We're a $2 million business, and I want to see us do our business in a more businesslike way. We have 120 players depending on us to make their livings." If some of her business ventures produce, particularly TV, Carol Mann may be able to quit selling golf and concentrate on playing it again.
For all its problems, however, the LPGA has made great headway in a relatively short time. Though prize money is down from last year, it is still 53% ahead of what it was only four years ago.
"We are riding the crest of a wave," says Mann, "and our job is to stay on it, because waves like the feminist movement don't come along every day."