LPGA won't renew Kingsmill contract

Updated: September 21, 2009, 5:01 PM ET
Associated Press

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- The LPGA Tour has lost one of its marquee events.

Anheuser-Busch announced Monday that it is not renewing its sponsorship of the popular Michelob Ultra Open at Kingsmill after seven years.

Anheuser-Busch vice president Dan McHugh said that the company has decided to spread its sponsorships over a wider range of professional golf events. He says it will continue working with the LPGA.

"We're looking to give sort of a little bit more national scope," McHugh said. He said after a lengthy analysis after the May event here, the company wants to "create a footprint in more tournaments."

The LPGA has lost at least seven tournaments since 2007.

McHugh said Monday's announcement will mean a Michelob presence at more events, and a continuing support of the LPGA Tour. McHugh added that the support would be with hospitality opportunities rather than a major sponsorship.

Anheuser-Busch owns the Kingsmill Resort and Spa, where the PGA Tour made a stop for 22 years before the LPGA took over seven years ago. McHugh said the decision-making process included considering the higher costs of being the owner and operator of a tournament.

Michelob Ultra also hopes to continue as the official beer of the tour, he said.

The news is expected to be taken especially hard by the players on the tour, who voted the event their favorite in 2007. Fans voted it their favorite event in 2008, said Eric Albrecht, vice president of marketing for the tour. He attended the press conference.

The players were notified of the news early Monday, Albrecht said.

"I think it's a little bit the realities of the sports sponsorship landscape," he said, adding that the tour has "close to" 20 events confirmed for 2010. He said the tour is in discussions with nine other events and working with several potentially new event partners.

"As we move closer and closer to the 2010 schedule, we're feeling better and better about that schedule," Albrecht said. "We feel good where was are in September. We're optimistic but we're also realistic knowing that our 2010 schedule may not be what it was a couple of years ago."

In 2007, the LPGA had 34 events on its schedule. It had just 27 this year, lost all three of its events in Hawaii, longtime sponsor Corning after 31 years and several others.

It has been a particularly difficult year for the women's tour. A group of prominent players wrote a letter in July asking for the resignation of tour commissioner Carolyn Bivens after four years, saying the tour's woes could not all be blamed on a weakened economy.

Bivens resigned the following week, and was replaced on an interim basis by Marsha Evans, a retired rear admiral in the Navy who also has led the American Red Cross and Girl Scouts of the USA. The tour has said it hopes to find a permanent replacement for Bivens by year's end.

Albrecht said since the change the news has been encouraging, including the announcement last week that Rolex will sponsor this year's final event, the LPGA Tour Championship.

The U.S. victory in the Solheim Cup against a team of European players drew positive attention to the tour, he said, and may help the tour land new sponsors.

"We've had a lot of companies begin to talk to us just since the Solheim Cup," he said.

For Kingsmill, which drew raves from players for the corps of 1,500 volunteers that made the week of tournament activities run so smoothly, it might not be the end of professional golf in Virginia, said Wayne Noe, the tournament director of the Michelob Ultra Open.

"Kingsmill will and has had some dialogue with the LPGA and would like to have further discussion about any opportunities for us moving forward," Noe said. "If there are opportunities that arise in the future, we'd like to be part of those discussions."

McHugh said the decision not to go forward was not finalized until last week, but if a sponsor arose willing to bring the LPGA back, the company would be "very receptive" to it.


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press