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LPGA Founders Cup Gets New Title Sponsor

From “Huff’s Stuff” Arizona Golf Blog by Bill Huffman at the Arizona Golf Authority

It’s been a busy summer for Chris Garrett, the tournament director of the LPGA Founders Cup. There had been his weeks of preparatory work at the Solheim Cup up in Denver, and, of course, a little on-going topic of conversation called . . . uhmmm . . . finding a title sponsor for his event.

Courtesy of LPGA Tour - Arizona Golf AuthorityNotice I did not include RR Donnelley, the tournament’s title sponsor for the past three years when the Founders Cup was held at Wildfire Golf Club near the J.W. Marriott Resort in Phoenix, in Garrett’s title – and with good reason!

RR Donnelley, the global provider of print, digital and supply chain supplies that is headquartered in Chicago, has experienced sluggish, if any, growth in the last two years. RR Donnelley could be back March 17-23 at Wildfire in some capacity, but title sponsor isn’t expected to be one of them.

Garrett, who is harder to pin down than a roadrunner, said he’s not sure what’s coming down the pike, except that “we will be in Phoenix.”

This was kind of a given, as I had talked with LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan during the final round of this year’s tournament. According to Whan at the time, he has not been able to work out a new contract for the event beyond this year. The commissioner and RR Donnelley officials had met several times during tournament week, he said, without reaching a renewal.

“I’ve given (RR Donnelley) until this summer (to renew),” Whan said at the time. “But if they don’t re-up, we’re confident that we can find another sponsor.

“Phoenix is a great market, and the LPGA needs to be in this market. And that isn’t taking anything away from RR Donnelley. They have been the best, and their business is on a nice comeback, so I remain very hopeful.”
Apparently 2013 has not been much better business-wise, or least to the level RR Donnelley had hoped for. But Garrett said his boss still is all over the flag when it comes to the tournament remaining in the Valley.

“All those things he said (in March) remain true,” Garrett said. “We’re not sure of the role RR Donnelley will be in, but we will be in Phoenix.

“I just met with Commissioner Whan (two weeks ago) at the Solheim Cup, and he said, ‘You’ve got the same amount of money you did last year, and don’t go backwards.’ That’s our plan moving forward, to do the same as we did last year.”

Say this about the Founders Cup, which pays homage to the 13 Founders of the LPGA, including our very own Marilynn Smith who lives in Goodyear: It has gotten better and better, and I’m not just saying that because its three champions are Hall of Famer Karrie Webb (2011), Taiwan’s (formerly No. 1) Yani Tseng (2012) and the current champ, Stacy Lewis, who rose to No. 1 in the world following her big win at Wildfire only to be currently residing at No. 2.

The contract that ran out this year was a three-year deal. Rumors have it that Whan has lined up a three- or possibly even a six-year contract with a title sponsor. Garrett, however, said “that stuff is confidential,” although he did provide somewhat of a timetable on how it all could unfold.

“I would expect all the legal stuff (with a new sponsor) to be worked out in the next four to six weeks,” Garrett said. “I’d like to have something ready to announce by mid-September.

“We’ve been pretty quiet this summer, because in the Valley, June, July and August, are pretty slow times,” Garrett said. “Plus, there’s other contracts that need to be signed, like with the J.W. Marriott, and other sponsors, although those kinds of contracts are much simpler than working out a deal with a title sponsor.

“But with timetables, you have to be patient and thorough. That’s why I’d hate to tell you one thing, and then end up doing another. Really, all I can say is we’re going forward.”

Garrett is sharp guy. He and his staff, which includes his assistant, Kristy Nutt, have been impressive in a short time, improving the tournament every year since it burst on the scene. Or had you forgotten that the first tournament in 2011 happened very quickly, like within a few months?

Plus, you’ve got to give Whan some credit for coming up with the concept, as it really does look back to the Founders as well as paying it forward by making the tournament’s official charity the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf. True, the $1.5 million purse is kind of middle-of-the-pack or below, but the $225,000 first prize is a good thing. And, hey, you get to spend a week in Phoenix when the rest of the country’s weather is pretty much horrible.

Garrett certainly understands his product.

“We’re excited the way this whole thing has come together in the first three years, with the players, the Hall of Famers, the Founders and girls’ golf,” he said. “We just want to make it a better tournament for everybody involved.”

The way to do that, of course is to line up a title sponsor that will be here for six years, although at this point, three years would be good. But how do you make it better than it already is, because the Founders Cup really does rock, especially for the young girls that flock to it?

“I’ve been doing this a long time, and I feel like we’ve shot a solid 70 at this tournament,” said Garrett, who also is the tournament director for Lorena Ochoa’s LPGA event in Mexico.

“But it’s like golf: You want to make a few more birdies and a 67 or 68. So we’ll keep doing things better, and looking for that perfect tournament. In the meantime, I hope the fans, who have been fantastic, will continue to support us.”

Seriously, how can they not when the tournament director is shooting for a 59. It’s so true that success always starts at the top — meaning I can’t wait for the fourth edition of the LPGA Founders Cup.

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