“Ring the Bell!”
The phrase can be heard often at the LPGA Tour’s headquarters in Daytona Beach, Fla. these days. When the words pierce the air, a staffer will ring Hall of Famer Pat Bradley’s mom’s bell, just as she did whenever the six-time major champion did something well. The tour recently received the bell from the World Golf Hall of Fame, and now it resides in the lobby of the LPGA’s offices.
With purse sizes increasing significantly this season across the LPGA’s marquee events, the tour has had plenty of wins to celebrate.
“I’ve had some situations where I’ve gone into a meeting thinking we were just talking about the event,” says LPGA Tour commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan, “and the CEO or the lead executive from the sponsor just says, ‘Listen, I’ve got great news. We’d like to increase the purse by 25 percent or to increase the purse by X amount.’”
Between all of the LPGA’s five majors and the tour championship, the total money available to players in 2022 is $2.78 million more on average than last season, marking a 59.4 percent year-over-year increase. The AIG Women’s Open, which began Thursday at Muirfield in Scotland, was the latest major to implement a purse increase. After guaranteeing “at least $6.8 million” last August, the Open bumped it even further this week to $7.3 million.
“To see and have these partners like KPMG this week,” Lydia Ko said at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, “or ProMedica at the U.S. Women’s Open, or AIG did a big jump as well and the many other partners — not just our majors — for them to believe and see what we see and believe in women’s golf and go for that woman’s empowerment is very special.”
The length of the LPGA’s discussions with existing sponsors on increasing purse sizes has ranged from a few years to mere minutes. The reasons the companies have provided for boosting the prize money, however, are generally consistent.
“It is an opportunity for them to express their own company values and an opportunity for them to support something that they believe in,” Marcoux Samaan tells Just Women’s Sports. “It’s really exciting because it’s often not a great negotiation. It’s like, ‘Hey, we’re all in this together to support the players and to support the organization.’”
These companies are especially interested in getting in on the ground floor as women’s sports grow across the board, Marcoux Samaan explained. Interested sponsors are seeing the data that shows that women’s sports fans are more passionate than men’s sports fans.
Their investments also go beyond the dollar amounts. Some have focused on getting their sponsored event on national television. Dow Chemical Company, the title sponsor of the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, pays for the final round to air on CBS. Other ancillary offerings include travel stipends, courtesy cars and “the best food that you could ever imagine,” according to Marcoux Samaan:
“Every conversation is, ‘How do we continue to support the women on the tour and reach this partner and the sponsor’s goals?'”
The staggering monetary growth hasn’t reached the LPGA’s non-major events to the same extent. The purses of the regular-field tournaments have increased by 4.5 percent, from $1,827,778 in 2021 to $1,910,000 this season. The AmazingCre Portland Classic, the LPGA’s longest-running non-major tournament entering its 51st year, announced in May a $100,000 purse increase from $1.4 million to $1.5 million, on the same day AmazingCre was revealed as the tournament’s title sponsor.
While the muted growth of the tour’s regular season tournaments might not impact the stars at the top of the world rankings, those golfers in the middle-to-lower tiers face more of an uphill battle. If they don’t qualify for the majors, they can’t reap the benefits of the massive purses.
Marcoux Samaan said the LPGA typically targets a $2 million purse as a baseline for new events. That means a golfer would have to play in five regular-field tournaments to match the total purse at the U.S. Women’s Open this year.
“We value all of our partners, and we want them to move at the pace that they’re comfortable moving. We obviously would want all of them to be able to grow as the value grows, as they see the continued value of their partnership with us,” Marcoux Samaan says. “I think we’re having those conversations with all of our partners, but we’re also very much grateful for those that have supported us for a long time.”
While the LPGA continues to chip away at the purse sizes in all of its tournaments, the tour’s total prize money grew 36.9 percent from last year to 2022. Marcoux Samaan expects many more bell-ringing moments as the LPGA continues to build on the momentum.
“I think it’s really exciting that people are starting to really see the world-class talent of our athletes, and they’re investing in that, because it is a chicken and egg,” she says. “The more they invest and the more viewership, the more value people will place on the tour and on our athletes, which is really what our goal is.”
Kent Paisley is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering golf and the LPGA. He also contributes to Golf Digest. Follow him on Twitter @KentPaisley.