Race to the CME Group Validates LPGA Tour Growth

Fred AltvaterContributor IIJanuary 10, 2014

LPGA Tour Commissioner Michael Whan and Inbee Park have been instrumental in growing the tour.
LPGA Tour Commissioner Michael Whan and Inbee Park have been instrumental in growing the tour.Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Since Michael Whan became the commissioner of the LPGA in 2009, the tour has been on a very steep growth curve. The new Race to the CME Globe adds excitement and a $1 million bonus for one lucky player.

From 2007-2010 the economic recession hit the LPGA Tour extremely hard. Many of its events were held in smaller markets and lacked sponsors that could justify the extra expense of funding a women’s professional golf tournament.

Leading female stars Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa took early exits from competitive golf to raise families and the LPGA Tour was forced to develop new faces to fill the void.

Foreign-born golfers had dominated for several years and U.S. golf fans did not have a true American hero on tour.

The tour recognized their strength as an international entity, earned some frequent-flier miles and promoted tournaments in Taiwan, Japan, Thailand, Mexico, South Korea, China and Europe.

After hitting a low-water mark with only 23 sanctioned tournaments in 2011, the tour will offer its members 33 events with a total purse available of over $56 million in 2014.

The excitement created by Inbee Park winning three consecutive major championships last year, the emergence of Suzann Pettersen as a dominant force and the consistency of Stacy Lewis has captured the attention of American golf fans.

Young stars like Lexi Thompson and Lydia Ko are the future of the ladies game and have drawn a new group of fans to the women's tour.

In addition, the LPGA Tour has embraced social media and trains tour players to become involved with Twitter and Facebook to interact with their golf fans around the world.

CME Group came on board the tour three years ago and has added stability. The CME Titleholders grabbed attention by offering $700,000 for winning the season-ending event in 2013.

The final LPGA Tour tournament of the year will now be named the CME Group Tour Championship and offer $500,000 to the winner.

The season-long Race to the CME Globe will also culminate that week and award $1 million to the top points-earner.

In her record-setting season last year, Inbee Park won the LPGA Tour money title with $2.4 million in total earnings. By winning both the CME Group Tour Championship and the Race to the CME Globe, one player could essentially have a one day windfall of $1.5 million at the end of the 2014 LPGA Tour season.

This is life-changing-type money for an LPGA Tour player, and it will get the attention of every tour member. Taking a week off and skipping a tournament could become a very expensive vacation this year.

The PGA Tour has the FedEx Cup, and the European Tour has the Race to Dubai that both award bonus money in season-long competitions.

The Race to the CME Globe not only provides an additional revenue stream to lady professionals, it also validates the renewed image of the women’s game and gets the LPGA Tour in line with the men.

CME Group has added tremendous value to the LPGA Tour, and the Race to the CME Globe will give media, as well as golf fans, another good reason to watch the LPGA Tour in 2014.