On The Ground at RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup

Okay, call me a homer. First of all, the tournament is here in the “Valley of the Sun,” specifically the northern Phoenix suburbs. But Scottsdale is just a couple of miles east, so it still counts as a home game for me.

The tournament is back for its 3rd year at the JW Marriott Phoenix Desert Ridge Resort and Spa and while that may seem a mouthful, the resort is even bigger. It’s like a huge, sprawling oasis in the middle of the desert with not one, but two golf courses. And they’re giving up nine holes from each one (the Palmer and the Faldo) to have this tournament come off in an appropriate way. It’s a nice blend. 

But they are not the only ones making that kind of effort. The LPGA itself is no longer a timid, weak sister in the race for golfers’ eyes, and this tournament might be the best example that they could point too.

And the tournament’s first year is probably the best example of their creativity and drive. Commissioner Mike Whan convinced the players to come from all over the world…and play for nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. They were playing for the future of the LPGA in Phoenix and perhaps even everywhere. If they couldn’t put together a tournament in the biggest golf market in Arizona, what hope was there?

Almost all of the marquee players came for the full-field event and Phoenix responded on the first day with throngs of golf fans from far and wide. In the media room, there was a quiet exuberance — wouldn’t want to jinx it — and the week finished with more fans than anybody had hoped for.

Part of that was the nostalgia, whether you knew them or not, for the thirteen founding players of the LPGA, the barnstormers who drove town to town in their own cars pulling off publicity stunts to gather the crowds. And that spirit still lives on. See my post “The LPGA Tour: Working Very Hard on Their Brand,” for a video of a very cool hotel rooftop stunt that amply showcases the ladies’ considerable golf talents.

That first-year, proof-of-concept was so successful that RR Donnelley, the large, business communication and printing company, went all in. It didn’t hurt the LPGA’s cause that the CEO drew one of the Tour’s best ambassadors, Yani Tseng, in the pro-am. I know because I was there at 7 AM to follow her. She was a master in every sense.

And when last year’s tournament replicated the first in enthusiasm, Donnelley and the LPGA upped the ante again. For the second year they are promoting their Girls’ Golf program at the tournament’s main entrance to seed the future with next-gen players (the First Tee finally got a player to the PGA Tour in Scott Langley), the stands now have tip-up stadium seats instead of bench seating, fans can buy week-long valet parking for $50, they’re going to have bobbleheads of Brittany Lincicome on Friday, Stacy Lewis on Saturday and Yani Tseng on Sunday and parking is nearby, free and exclusively in motor coaches, not school buses. And Michelob has pitched in with their Michelob 19th hole where fans can grab something to eat (and, uh, drink) with other fans of the LPGA.

And Sunday morning at 8:00 on the back nine, they’re going to reprise their Legends of the Game nine-hole exhibition with Nancy Lopez, Pat Bradley, Jan Stephenson and Joanne Carner. Not to take anything away from the other ladies, but that would be worth it just to see the gentle kindness in the face of Nancy Lopez.

All of this access for a mere $25 per day or $75 for the week.

So if you’re here, how can you not come? And if you’re not here, it’s going to be in the low 90s all week long with no rain or snow. There’s still time…

Oh, and did I mention that these are the finest women golfers in the world? You have to see them play in person and I promise you, you won’t be disappointed.

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