03/09/2016

“What if we…?” was the brainstorming question LPGA Tour commissioner Mike Whan and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem asked as they looked at the future of professional golf.

The rich variety of potential answers to that open-ended question this month prompted the men’s and women’s pro tours to formalize a written agreement to work together to grow both tours, and by extension, the game of golf.

The announced areas of cooperation include “schedule coordination, joint marketing programs, domestic television representation, digital media and exploring the potential development of joint events.”

While the formal Tour Alliance doesn’t enumerate any specific goals or timeline, commissioner Whan says just asking the question starts the ball rolling on the right line.

“I can’t tell you what’s going to happen in each of these areas,” Whan says honestly on an LPGA video.

To the casual golf fan, joint marketing programs, domestic television representation, schedule coordination and even digital media synergy between the tours are probably both overdue and beneficial, but they’re also technical and incremental; it’s hard to envision how they would lead to significant changes in the sport.

The one area of cooperation that might bring exciting, historic change to golf is the development of joint tour events.

What could that look like?

One precedent is 2014 when both the Men’s and Women’s US Opens were staged in back-to-back weeks on the famed Pinehurst No. 2 course. American Michelle Wie won the Women’s Open while the Men’s Open championship was taken a week earlier by Germany’s Martin Kaymer.

They played 72 holes on the same course but in different weather in different weeks with different distances and pin locations. Kaymer finished his four rounds at 9-under par, Wie at 2-under.

Those tournaments were run by the United States Golf Association, not the PGA and LPGA Tours. The USGA has announced its schedule for future US Opens through 2021 and for at least the next five years the two events will not share a site.

It will happen again this summer though, courtesy of the IOC, at the Olympics in Brazil. The men will play August 11 – 14 and the women August 17 – 20 on the new Marapendi Olympic golf course.

Perhaps the PGA – LPGA Tour Alliance could eventually lead to each tour staging tournaments in consecutive weeks at the same venue in the US. That would lower infrastructure costs and have some marketing overlap.

Another model the Alliance might look at is professional tennis. The ATP and WTA tours have separate schedules but they come together several times a year for events that range from Wimbledon to this week’s BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California.

Of course the logistics of tennis make this so much easier than it would be for golf but it would be possible to put fields of, say, 60 male and 60 female pros out on the same course, using different tee boxes, and crowning both men’s and women’s champions.

An existing limited field event like the Franklin Templin Shootout or the Hero World Challenge could experiment with the concept without running into the PGA Tour players’ complaint of the women taking tee times away from male pros.

Until a few years ago, the men and women did tee it up in the same event at the same time (along with senior pros) in the Wendy’s 3-Tour Challenge, played from 1992 through 2013. Over the 22 years, an LPGA team won the title six times while the regular tour men won nine times.

The 3-Tour Challenge was played in early December, in what was then called golf’s “silly season.”

Is it silly now to wonder if someday the PGA – LPGA Tour Alliance might lead to male and female pros competing together in co-branded events? If that were to happen, it would bring historic change to the century-old way golf tournaments have been staged and presented.

“What if we…?” is the question the Tour Alliance is asking.

How they answer it could change the face of golf.

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