The tour's yearly prize money exceeded the $1 million mark in 1972, yet by 1975, when 37-year-old Ray Volpe was hired to oversee a wholesale renovation of the 26-year-old organization, LPGA prize money was still nowhere near $2 million. Its treasury, thanks to some messy and unsuccessful litigation with Jane Blalock, was in the red. The golfers, who had endured hard work and unfulfilled promises for years, had to watch women's tennis take off under what, from their angle, looked like spontaneous combustion, while they, in spite of the efforts of such people as Carol Mann, seemed to be at a standstill.
That they had even reached $1 million was largely the result of Colgate's lavish investment in golf, and in spite of their gratitude to Foster, the players were convinced that he had frightened away other corporate sponsors, perhaps permanently. Once he retired, they feared, Colgate might withdraw, leaving them back at Go.
Enter Volpe, a veteran of seven years with the Doyle, Dane, Bernbach advertising agency and four years as vice-president of marketing for the National Hockey League. Volpe speaks the language of money, marketing and Madison Avenue, and he has made believers of all but the most skeptical veterans. "The name of the game is merchandising," says Carol Mann. "He walks on water as far as I'm concerned," says Donna Young.
Volpe, with the aid of a young staff he enticed away from the NHL and the Virginia Slims tour, raised the prize money from $1.4 million in 1975 to $2.8 million, and as a result all of the leading players are earning more. Judy Rankin became the first woman golfer to top $100,000—her second last week, worth $19,300, gave her $138,734 for the year-while Palmer has won $86,194 and Joanne Carner $86,908. Volpe anticipates more than $3.2 million in prize money in 1977. He acquired new tournaments this year in three of the country's biggest population centers—New York, Los Angeles and Cleveland—and next year will add San Francisco, Rochester and Detroit to the tour. In 1976 the tour included eight events worth $100,000. Next year there will be at least 10. NBC will televise the Ladies Masters in April and the LPGA Championship in June; the networks will now be televising five tour events. Out of nerve and thin air, Volpe created the Mixed Team Championship (the Palmers, Arnold and Sandra, are one pairing) which will take place in December at Doral in Miami, sponsored by Pepsi-Cola and the—hold on—Hotel and Restaurant Employees' and Bartenders' International Union. He has persuaded PBS, the Public Broadcasting System, to televise it and two or three other 1977 events as well.
Further, Volpe has created an in-house marketing and advertising agency called People & Properties, Inc., run by Tony Andrea, 31, also out of DDB by the NHL, and Edd Griles, 30, which offers inexperienced tournament sponsors "full servicing," for a fee. The Carlton, a tournament so classy it provided the players with buckets of new Titleist balls on the practice range, was a sample of P&P's work. "We figure that if we give our sponsors 100% to 150% of what they expect, we will build a strong organization," says Andrea.
"The golf industry is dumb! Dumb!," Volpe mutters. "They have intimidated women and children right out of the game. Where will golfers come from if children don't play? It's a perfect family game. Where else can a father spend four hours with a son? It's healthy for clubs, healthy for families. That's one reason I pushed the mixed team event—men and women playing together."
Perhaps, when you think about it, prophets and visionaries are just advertising men with long beards. The gleam in the eye is the same. "I represent the organization," says Volpe. "Players come and go. The organization remains. I represent Babe Zaharias and the future. The players are now."
At Calabasas it seemed as if the future had arrived.