LPGA v. COVID-19

By: Rivers Ridout

The LPGA Tour finds itself in the same position as most professional sport leagues in the wake of COVID-19—nonexistent. Events like the Honda LPGA Thailand, the HSBC Women’s World Championship, the Blue Bay LPGA, and the Founders Cup are just a handful of the major LPGA tournaments cancelled because of the pandemic. Fortunately for golf fans, in early June, the PGA Tour played its first tournament in months. The tournament was played without fans in attendance but was considered a success with no new confirmed COVID-19 cases detected. This has left many wondering why the LPGA Tour has not attempted to return in a similar fashion.

There are many reasons why we still have not seen the LPGA Tour make a comeback. First, unlike the PGA Tour, a business model without fans would be difficult for the LPGA Tour to afford. According to Randall Mell, “[w]ith LPGA tournaments working under a different business model than the richer PGA Tour and its enormous TV rights package, the prospect of playing without fans . . . is more daunting to women’s events.” A tournament without fans is also against the LPGA Tour’s core values. One of its major goals is to have a positive effect on the tournament site’s community. Chris Chandler, the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational tournament director, said that allowing the community to take part in the event is a core value of each tournament. According to Chandler, the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational made a $12.7 million impact on the community last year. He stated that if you are unable to achieve your core values like support for the community, “that’s a tough message.”

Another reason for the LPGA Tour’s delayed comeback is various international and domestic travel restrictions. Liz Moore, the Chief Legal and IT Officer for the LPGA, notes that 75-80% of the average LPGA Tour field consists of international players. This is far greater than the number of PGA Tour international players. As a result, the LPGA Tour must deal with significantly more travel restrictions, which makes it difficult to run a tournament. Even if travel restrictions were not an issue, both the LPGA Tour and the PGA Tour must take the health and safety concerns of individual players into consideration. Some players have already decided that even if they are allowed to travel internationally, health concerns and mandatory quarantine requirements that exist in some jurisdictions are too burdensome to make it worthwhile to play in one or two tournaments. When asked whether or not he will be competing in Texas in June, PGA Tour veteran and United Kingdom citizen Lee Westwood stated, “[r]ight now, I won’t be playing in them. Not with having to leave here two weeks before, quarantine, then play the two tournaments.”

The LPGA Tour is hoping to incentivize international players into traveling by increasing 2020 tournaments purses. According to LPGA Communications, the total available purse remaining for the year has increased to more than $56 million. This means that LPGA players would be competing for an average of $2.7 million per event.

Luckily, the LPGA Tour is beginning to see the light on the horizon with the scheduling of the Marathon tournament in Toledo, Ohio, for August 6-9. After approval by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, the Marathon tournament will allow a limited number of fans so long as they remain socially distanced. LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan stated that the Marathon tournament, in addition to a new event called the LPGA Drive On Championship, will allow the LPGA Tour to test its new COVID-19 protocols before planning future tournaments. The Marathon Classic Tournament Director, Judd Silverman, said that these new protocols would include thermal scanning of temperatures of fans and support staff entering the site, as well as routine testing of all players, caddies, and tournament staff. There are even plans for safe food preparation like allowing only packaged goods to be available at concession stands and hospitality areas.

Both fans and LPGA Tour members hope that the Marathon Tournament will be as successful as the PGA Tour’s restart at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth, Texas. Regarding the PGA Tour restart, Tod Archer wrote, “[f]rom a health standpoint, no players, caddies, or staff tested positive for COVID-19. From a golf standpoint, the strong field with the top five ranked players in the world and 16 of the top 20 did not disappoint.” Although several PGA Tour members have tested positive for the virus in the weeks following the Charles Schwab Challenge, it appears that things are headed toward normalcy for both the PGA and the LPGA Tours. Commissioner Mike Whan said it best when he stated, “‘Fluid’ is the word for 2020. Every day you wake up and realize all the things you didn’t know. I do believe we will get started in Ohio in July and then be off and running. But what I believe and what the virus will be in control of in the next 30 days are two different things.”

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