Prize money and sponsorships are on the rise in women’s golf, but is it enough?

Brittany Lincicome started playing on the LPGA Tour in 2005 when it was a tough business with few events. Now in its 18th season, the tour is thriving and she has no plans to retire any time soon.

“My parents said, ‘Play 10 years and you can retire,'” Lincicome said. “Now there is no end in sight. The prize money is there. The scholarships increase every year. It would be difficult to leave. Also, I would like to win and have my daughter with me.

Lincicome, who is pregnant with her second child, said the difference between her rookie season and now is sponsors, who have improved the quality of courses golfers have played. “It’s cool to see where we’ve come from and where we’re going,” she said.

Her first big win came in 2009 at the Chevron Championship, formerly known as the ANA Inspiration and an LPGA major since 1983. This year’s tournament, which begins Thursday and has long been associated with actress Dinah Shore, talk show host and early female tour supporter, will be the last to be held at the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

A central part of the event was Poppie’s Pond, where the champion, her caddy and a number of friends and family take a victory dip beside the 18th green.

It’s unclear if the pond will move to Houston, where Chevron is headquartered next year, as part of the company assuming title sponsorship. But, pond or not, one of the five women’s majors has a corporate sponsor to go on, with a purse that has grown by nearly $2 million this year, from $3.1 million to $5 million.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Stacy Lewis, whose first professional victory came at the event in 2011, when Kraft Nabisco was the sponsor. “He will always have a special place for me. But as a tournament, it was time. When we lost Kraft, the tour took a long time to bring ANA on board. And the fan base has dwindled over the past 10 years.

As the LPGA Tour trails the PGA Tour in prize money, sponsors of the world’s best female golfers have stepped up – new tournament deals, developmental tour money and a increased support for athletes wishing to start a family.

Purses also reached $90 million this year, up from $67 million in 2019.

“The scholarships are super important so that we can have the best tournament schedule that we can put together and allow the best women in the world to achieve their goals,” said Mollie Marcoux Samaan, who became LPGA commissioner l last year.

These increases came slowly. A decade ago, Marcoux’s predecessor, Mike Whan, now the USGA’s general manager, encouraged players to talk about their golf, but to make sure they thanked sponsors for supporting the tour.

In her new role, Whan tapped ProMedica, a healthcare company, as the first presenting sponsor of the US Women’s Open. The purse nearly doubled from $5.5 million to $10 million. But it wasn’t easy.

“I saw how much money the USGA lost at the US Women’s Open,” Whan said. “I could see they were doing the right thing. But they weren’t catering to companies that also wanted to do the right thing.”

Companies that feature as LPGA Tour sponsors align their financial support with broader diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. KPMG was among the first to do so with its sponsorship of the Women’s PGA Championship in 2014.

“We’ve more than doubled the stock market since then,” said Shawn Quill, managing director and national sports industry leader at KPMG. “We were able to put the LPGA players on the best courses in the world, the same ones the men play.”

This year’s event takes place at the Congressional Country Club, where Rory McIlroy won the men’s US Open in 2011.

As title sponsor, KPMG not only increased the prize money, but also added a Women’s Leadership Summit, which focuses on senior executives and future leaders. “As sponsors, we saw this could be more than a hospitality event,” Quill said.

Aon, the professional services company, sponsors a season-long competition that collects the highest scores on the toughest hole each week on the PGA and LPGA Tours. He pledged in 2019 to pay out the same $1 million prize to golfers who won the challenge.

“This ties into our inclusion and diversity strategy,” said Jennifer Bell, Aon’s general manager for North America. “We also want to influence other sponsors since we have taken up this challenge.”

At the end of last season, Bell presented checks to Matthew Wolff, who turned pro in 2019, is ranked 45th in the world and has earned over $7 million; and Hannah Green, who turned pro in 2018, is ranked 31st in the world but earned just over $2 million.

“When I presented Hannah Green with the million dollar check last year, she was grinning from ear to ear,” Bell said. “I said, ‘What are you going to do with it?’ She said, “I think I’m going to buy a house.” She still lived with her mother.

The disparity in earnings between players on the men’s and women’s tours is huge. Total prize money for the PGA Tour has risen from $367 million to $427 million in 2022, nearly five times that of the LPGA Tour. This means that many top female golfers live more modestly.

Epson America, the American subsidiary of the Japanese printing and imaging company, has created three additional benefits for Epson Tour players, guaranteeing minimum tournament prize money of $200,000 and providing a $10,000 stipend to the 10 players who graduate from the LPGA each year. It also reduced registration fees.

“They are one of the biggest obstacles,” said Meghan MacLaren, a Ladies European Tour winner who now plays on the Epson Tour. “Before you add in all the other stuff, like flights, hotels, and travel, you’re looking at $10,000 for 20 events.”

Increased prize money at the top of the LPGA or Epson Tour invariably trickles down to players who finish out of contention.

“What we’ve really loved about the sponsorship is that we’re investing in the future of women’s golf,” said Keith Kratzberg, general manager of Epson America.

Corporate sponsors have also begun to promote the values ​​they adopt in their companies to their athletes.

When Lewis was pregnant in 2018, she worried about telling her sponsors. In the past, some sponsors did not pay golfers who did not play a certain number of events, usually between 18 and 20 tournaments. Two of the most dominant players of their era, Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa, both ranked No. 1 in the world, retired from golf in their prime to have children.

For Lewis, it was different. “KPMG said, ‘We’re going to pay you whether you play your 20 events or not,'” she said. “We will treat you like any KPMG employee.”

When she went public with the company’s pledge, all but one of her sponsors also agreed to pay her in full.

“It set the bar for other businesses,” said Gerina Piller, a 15-year-old touring player who often travels with her son. “It opened up another avenue to allow us to pursue our dream and be a mom and not get stuck with the decision to play or stay home?”

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