“What else is there in life,” asked Jim Colbert as an impish smile crossed his face, “but golf and girls?” The occasion was the first ever Mixed Team Golf Championship on the Blue Monster course at Miami’s Doral Country Club. The format featured a two-person team with an LPGA Tour player and a PGA Tour player each hitting a drive from their respective tees and playing alternate shots the remainder of the hole. The date was December, 1976.
Forty years later, while Adam Scott was cementing his position as the world’s best golfer circa Winter 2016 at that same Doral Country Club, there was golf news about the mingling of the sexes being made again. The LPGA and the PGA issued a joint release announcing an alliance between the two tours that “will include areas such as schedule coordination, joint marketing programs, domestic television representation, digital media, and exploring the potential development of joint events.” What does it mean? Maybe a lot, maybe not.
What Does the LPGA Get Out of such a Deal?
That Mixed Team Golf Championship in the ‘70s didn’t have a long run, and neither did another off-season event called the Three Tour Challenge that featured pros from the PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour on the same teams. But other than that, the paths of the men’s and women’s professional golf tours have seldom crossed in the 66 years since the LPGA formed in 1950. In 2014, the U.S. Women’s Open was held a week after the Men’s Open at Pinehurst, but the big winner in that deal was the resort. Most of the sporting press packed its bags after the men’s tournament and the Women’s Open scrounged for both spectators and volunteers.
With that in mind, the biggest obvious benefit for the LPGA is increased exposure by hitching its wagon to the television and digital juggernaut of the PGA. For most of its existence the LPGA has survived, and occasionally prospered, with a scant few events on national television. Tour officials have long contended that fans would realize the great fun and golf competition that was going on out on the women’s tour, if only they had the opportunity to see it.
Other world tours have taken the leap lately of developing joint events with men and women, both competing in teams and planning simultaneous tournaments at the same venue. So far these have been on different courses at the same location, but there’s nothing to preclude two limited-field tournaments from playing off different tees on the same course.
What Does the PGA get Out of such a Deal?
It’s less obvious what the PGA would get out of an alliance with the LPGA. The end of its current lucrative television contracts with NBC, CBS and the Golf Channel loom on the horizon, and even though the PGA hype machine has been working overtime to come up with a new narrative to replace Tiger Woods, there’s no sure thing. Witness the recent mania to build a new “Big Three” and how well that has gone. The storyline heading into the Masters looks likely to be more on Scott, Bubba Watson, and a resurgent Phil Mickelson than Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy… and Rickie Fowler if you’re trying to make it the “Big Four.” A more varied golf line-up than the same old 72-holes-but-different-locale format the PGA trots out now, could be energized by a partnership with women’s golf.
Or it could be as logical as the PGA seeking to build a wider base among the next generation of fans. After all, the “Professional Golf Association” is not tied to gender – it’s for professional golfers.
Time will tell, but we’ll be watching.