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To many players, Young among them, the association of the LPGA with Colgate is as important emotionally as it is financially, and the prospect of the two parting ways is almost unimaginable. The Palm Springs tournament is not only the richest on the U.S. LPGA schedule, but also the one true glamour event the women play all year, a sort of cross between the Masters and the Crosby, a week-long fling in a California resort at the height of the season with trimmings unrivaled anywhere on any tour—a good, well-groomed golf course, plush accommodations, lavish parties under the desert stars and the kind of hospitality that has traditionally made the golfers feel at least as important as the aging TV figures, over-the-hill athletes and ex-Presidents who are known generically as "celebrities" at California golf tournaments.
For the veteran players the tournament symbolizes the LPGA's breakthrough into the big time. In 1972, under the guidance of President and Chief Executive Officer David R. Foster, Colgate became the first major corporate patron of women's professional golf. Foster and Colgate gave the LPGA its first $100,000 purse and its first nationwide promotional push with a series of TV ads for Colgate products that made household faces out of women golfers who previously had been only names in agate type in the sports section. Colgate and Foster didn't create the LPGA tour, but their corporate weight did establish its credibility as a business proposition.
From women's golf, Colgate moved on, in the late '70s, into men's and women's tennis with the Colgate Grand Prix and the Colgate Series, respectively, and into men's golf with the Colgate Hall of Fame Classic at Pinehurst. But the fondest commitment, at least in Foster's eyes, was always to the LPGA.
Then, in January 1979, all that changed. Foster was removed from his job and replaced by Keith Crane, a man who, like Foster, had risen through the corporate ranks but who had emerged at the top with a different set of priorities. Quickly Colgate began to divest itself of its involvements in professional sports. Last year saw the end of three of Colgate's women's golf tournaments, worth a total of $400,000 in prize money.
But the new management couldn't seem to make up its mind about what to do with its flagship event, the Dinah Shore, which, among other things, had the fourth-highest rating among all televised golf events last year, men's and women's. Colgate vacillated until last August before announcing it would sponsor the tournament at least once more and then review the matter of its continuing involvement.
It is a serious matter indeed. Only during the first four months of the year do people watch golf on television in numbers sufficient to cause a stir along Madison Avenue, where decisions about how to spend advertising money are made. In order, the four highest-rated televised golf shows of 1979 were the Bob Hope Desert Classic in January, the Bing Crosby Pro-Am in February, the Masters in April and the Colgate-Dinah Shore the week before the Masters. Once spring arrives, those who care about golf tend to play it rather than watch it, with the result that even an event as prestigious as the U.S. Open in June doesn't draw flies on television.
The dates of the Colgate-Dinah Shore are particularly desirable to the LPGA because they are opposite the Greater Greensboro Open on the men's tour, which isn't covered by network television. The women have the airways to themselves and, because of that, get their best national exposure of the year.
Last week, as the tournament got under way, so did negotiations between LPGA Commissioner Ray Volpe and Jack Grimm, Crane's vice-president for sports and recreation. Rumors flew through the condominiums, one of them being that Crane wants to move the tournament to a summer date on the East Coast, closer to Colgate's corporate headquarters in New York City and farther away from Foster, who now lives on the edge of the Mission Hills course. Another story was that four acceptable sponsors, including Honda and McDonald's, are ready to move in the minute Colgate relinquishes the tournament and that all four are prepared to invite Foster to run the show. Foster himself, puttering around his antique shop on Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs' main drag, had this to say: "If Colgate isn't going to do it right, they should let it go and let someone else come in and do it the way it should be done."
By Saturday there was at least an indication of movement, if not progress. Colgate agreed to reach a decision within 10 days. One company official said the situation was looking good, that Crane now had a better idea of what the tournament was worth to the company and that three of his vice-presidents had submitted memos favorable to retaining it.
Which should make Young, and all the rest, breathe a bit easier.