`Rock' likely to lose event

Tour to own tourney

move in '10 expected

McDonald's LPGA Championship

June 07, 2008|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun reporter

Next year's LPGA Championship will likely be the last at Bulle Rock Golf Course in Havre de Grace.

In an announcement that came as a surprise not only to Bulle Rock officials but also to the golfers themselves, LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens said yesterday that the tour will take ownership of the event starting in 2010 at a site to be determined.

Because of problems getting corporate involvement in the Baltimore area, the tournament will likely move from Bulle Rock when its five-year contract with the tour ends after the 2009 event.

"This is truly a momentous day for the LPGA as it marks the first time in our history that we'll own one our majors, and I would say our most important major," Bivens said. "This is a seminal moment for the LPGA."

The LPGA owns the Solheim Cup, the biennial event that pits the U.S. against Europe in a format similar to that of the men's Ryder Cup; the tour also has part-ownership of its season-ending ADT Championship.

Bivens said the future site will likely be in the Northeast and the prize money will increase from $2.5 million to $3 million.

It is also possible that the event will go back to network television after tournament co-founder Herb Lotman moved it to the Golf Channel two years ago.

The new arrangement will mark the end of a 29-year relationship between McDonald's and the LPGA Tour. Lotman, who has helped run the tournament since its inception as a regular tour stop before becoming a major in 1994, will remain as honorary chairman.

Lotman said it wouldn't move back to Wilmington, Del., despite the renovations that have been made to DuPont Country Club.

"The Wilmington area, we lost a lot of business support financially so that's why we moved to Bulle Rock," Lotman said. "We were there for 23 years, and it was the same old, same old for the amateurs, and that's all you heard all the time."

Rick Rounsaville, Bulle Rock's director of golf, said Lotman's decision to give the tournament back to the LPGA was the biggest surprise, given his long-standing business relationship with John Paterakis, whose family owns Bulle Rock. The H&S bakery owned by Paterakis has made buns for McDonald's for years.

"If Herb would have stayed involved, it could have been here indefinitely," said Rounsaville, who heard the news only minutes before Bivens and Lotman appeared together at a news conference.

Rounsaville said Bulle Rock would like to host the event past 2010, but those familiar with the situation said it will move.

A year ago, charitable donations dropped from $1.5 million in each of the first two years at Bulle Rock to $1 million, the lowest figure since the tournament became a major championship.

Though the tournament won't have a title sponsor such as McDonald's, it will likely have a presenting sponsor that will help pay the bills.

"I don't think there's going to be a problem getting a sponsor," Lotman said. "We had some people call us over the years after they saw Coca-Cola here. We've had ... other calls that they [other companies] want to be a presenting sponsor. We're not going to lose money."

The news of the LPGA taking over its championship was apparently a well-kept secret.

"Well, I definitely wasn't aware," said Lorie Kane of Canada, a 43-year-old veteran. "It doesn't surprise me. I think we're in a very healthy position. Commissioner Bivens and our independent board and our players council have a vision of where we should go."

Though Bivens made it clear that the decision as to where the tournament would be played beginning in 2010 would not be made by current players, the three-person committee in charge of charting the event's future includes two former players, LPGA Championship executive director Alice Miller and Jane Geddes.

"There are a lot of great golf courses to look at," Miller said. "We've got our work cut out."

Said Kane, "I would really like to see us find a nice home at a course with a lot of heritage, tradition, that may be too short for the men but perfect for us."

Tour star Annika Sorenstam, a winner of three LPGA Championships, said that she was thankful to Lotman for giving the event back to the LPGA.

"I think it's great," Sorenstam said. "We're on a good ride. I think it's nice for us to own our own championship."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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