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Good golf isn't enough
Last week, the LPGA Tour held a three day players' summit in Phoenix, and there was no room for argument. All 178 golfers, from world number one Annika Sorenstam to the newest rookie, had to attend, and a $10,000 fine awaited anyone who dared to opt out.

Beforehand, the mood among the players was apprehensive, some were even downright belligerent. Most cold imagine nothing worse than a perceived three days stuck in a conference room listening to boring speeches.

But it turned out to be a revelation. The LPGA officials put together a great show and, by the time everyone was leaving, the players were all on board, and unanimously agreed that it had been a very worthwhile exercise.

The message that was sent out from every quarter was that the future success of the women's Tour depends on the players themselves. And not only that they play great golf, but they become much more aware that they are part of an entertainment industry.

If the Tour can draw more fans then that will attract more TV viewers and more sponsors. 'We told them we want them to work on their image as hard as they work on their games,' explained Ed Artz, a member of the LPGA board of directors.

'They need to understand that this is a business, and they have to reach out to the fans. They have to develop themselves as celebrities in other ways than just winning tournaments.'

As part of the package, the LPGA board has set out an ambitious five year marketing plan that includes raising TV viewership each year in the US by 10%, raising the number of spectators each year by 15% and insisting that the top-90 players must play each event at least once in every four years.

It is a welcome initiative and, if it comes to fruition, the players that doubted the worth of the summit will be celebrating in terms of increased interest and far greater financial rewards.

Hopefully, they will all have taken a good look at themselves and decided to make changes. Far too many players - men and women - are only interested in themselves, and are quite willing to turn up, play the tournament, and then head home with a cheque. But they need to do so much more.

Now, perhaps, they will think more about acknowledging the fans, dressing up for the occasion and being more media-friendly. Too many give the impression that dealing with the spectators and press are chores rather than a vital link. Signing autographs with a smile, and providing the journalists with interesting stories should be a huge part of the overall package.

As for dress, the women should spend more time on making sure they look good. And, in the week after the summit, there were signs that the suggestions had been taken on board.

For instance, American Jackie Gallagher-Smith (pictured) appeared in some natty wide-brimmed hats with ribbons in her hair, while the vivacious Australian, Shani Waugh, sported a pair of pedal-pushers with a scantily-clad Marilyn Monroe part of the design. They might not be everyone's taste, but they were certainly a talking point.

In Australia, a young amateur, Carlie Butler, has attracted huge attention for her skimpy, glittery tops, tight trousers and her long, flowing blonde hair. It's not everyone's style but, at the last two Australian Opens, she has attracted huge TV coverage, and initiated many an article, and not always on the sports pages.

But there are other aspects that also need addressing to increase the PR profile. Slow play has become a tedious issue. For spectators there is nothing worse than watching players trudging up the fairways at a funereal pace and then taking for ever to play their shots. Any sporting event is about action - and golf needs to speed up its act.

Anyway, it will be interesting to note significant changes on the LPGA Tour in the weeks and months to come. And when the players come to Turnberry for the Weetabix British Open in August, hopefully the Scottish audience will be greeted by smiling, friendly faces attired in great looking outfits. The golf is great on Tour, it's the peripheries - which are almost as important - that could be so much better.


©    19 - MARCH 2002



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