Officials seek to keep LPGA Tour event in Tulsa area

Updated: July 25, 2008, 3:58 PM ET
Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY -- After the title sponsor of an LPGA tournament in suburban Tulsa declared bankruptcy earlier this week, tournament officials say efforts are under way to preserve the eight-year-old event.

The SemGroup Championship has been played in May at Cedar Ridge Country Club in Broken Arrow, but it seems likely a new title sponsor for the event will be needed, as Tulsa-based SemGroup LP filed for bankruptcy on Tuesday after losing a reported $2.4 billion in hedged trading on the oil futures markets.

Doug Eibling of Octagon, a sports management and marketing company that owns the LPGA event, said Friday a search has started to replace SemGroup as the title sponsor. Eibling, the tournament's director, said that as SemGroup's troubles became public knowledge this week, Octagon received calls from three potential title sponsors, which he declined to name.

Paula Creamer won this year's tournament in a playoff over Juli Inkster. Next year's tournament is scheduled for May 28-31.

"The fact that people are coming to us already really speaks to the strength of the event here in the community and the value corporate companies see in the event," Eibling said.

Founded in 2000, SemGroup has become one of Tulsa's best-known companies in recent years, in part because of its sponsorship of the LPGA event. But company spokesman Lance Ignon said that the company's primary interest right now is not in potential sponsorships.

"Right now, we are focused on implementing this reorganization and making sure we move forward," Ignon said.

"We are doing our best at the moment to stabilize the company and ensure we take care of employees and customers and communities."

Eibling said a title sponsorship in the tournament would cost about $3 million. He said that Octagon has enough time to develop a relationship with a new sponsor before next year's tournament.

Eibling said LPGA officials have told him the tour will hold the event's place on the calendar, and LPGA deputy commissioner Libba Galloway expressed support for Octagon's efforts to find a new sponsor.

"We remain committed to working to keep the LPGA in Tulsa," Galloway said in a statement. "SemGroup has been a valued LPGA partner and we wish them the best as they attempt to emerge from these challenging times."

Eibling said Octagon is not setting a specific time frame in which it tries to locate a sponsor, "and luckily the LPGA is flexible on that."

He said the company had one goal for the tournament -- "to keep it in Tulsa."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press