LPGA retains a sponsor, loses another

Darren Carroll

Good news, bad news for the LPGA Tour, which will wrap up its 2012 season this week with the second annual Titleholders event. The tour announced on Monday that Wegmans would continue to sponsor the LPGA Championship for at least another year, but Navistar said the next day that it would decline to support the Prattville, Ala.-based LPGA Classic going forward.

The welcome disclosure that the second of five majors (the Evian Masters will ascend to major championship status in 2013) would be back at Locust Hill Country Club outside Rochester, N.Y., for the fourth straight year broke as Player of the Year Stacy Lewis, last week’s winner Cristie Kerr, and a star-studded cast of players were tuning up for this week’s season finale. Next year, the PGA Championship will take place at nearby Oak Hill Country Club two months after the June 6-June 9 LPGA tilt, marking the first time the men and women will play major tournaments in the same community.

“We are both proud and excited to bring the Wegmans LPGA Championship back to Rochester, and perhaps the best golf fans in the world,” LPGA commissioner Michael Whan said in a statement. “Rochester is uniquely positioned as ‘Golf’s Titletown’ next year with the LPGA and PGA Championships played just two months apart, giving golf fans in Western New York a unique opportunity to see the best females -- and males -- in golf compete on the biggest stage.

“For the LPGA,” Whan continued, “the combination of a world-class, top-notch partner like Wegmans and the passionate and knowledgeable fans of Rochester is simply as good as it gets.”

Not as good as it gets was the news that Illinois-based Navistar would opt out of a seventh year as sponsor of the tournament that Lewis won in September for her third of four tour victories (so far) this season and that 16-year-old Lexi Thompson claimed as her first LPGA triumph in 2011.

For sure, Lewis would like to return to what LPGA director of media communications Mike Scanlan told the Montgomery Advertiser was one of Whan’s favorite stops.

“I love coming and playing in Alabama,” Lewis told the Advertiser following her two-stroke win over Thompson.

Navistar officials blamed the economy for discontinuing its sponsorship.

“Navistar has been proud to be the lead sponsor of the Navistar LPGA Classic for the last six years and we've maintained a strong relationship with both the LPGA and the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail,” a Navistar spokesperson said in a statement, according to the Advertiser. “However, our current business climate requires a reduction of our sponsorship activities, including our sponsorship of the Navistar LPGA Classic.”

Kraig Kann, LPGA chief communications officer, said tour officials were hopeful of engaging a new sponsor for the event in 2013.

“The LPGA appreciates and applauds all that Navistar has done to support the Tour and Alabama. While they won't return to partner with us in 2013, to say that the LPGA...won't return to Prattville next year is premature,” Kann said in a statement. “We're all committed to continuing the tradition of women's professional golf in Alabama and the city of Prattville and are working together to deliver on those goals in 2013."

Tourney director Jonathan Romeo told the Advertiser the event costs some $3.5 million to $4 million each year. The outlet cited a Prattville Area Chamber of Commerce report that concluded the tourney had a $7 million annual impact on the region.

The LPGA will unveil its schedule for 2013 by the end of the year or in early January, according to a tour spokesperson.

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