Ginn Resorts is ending all golf sponsorships immediately, sending two tournaments into an uncertain future.
The real estate company said Wednesday it no longer will host or produce its two remaining events – the LPGA’s Ginn Open and the Champions Tour Ginn Championship. It also will drop its sponsorship of Cristie Kerr, the last player wearing the company’s apparel after Annika Sorenstam’s retirement.
“This wasn’t something that was done lightly,” Robert Gidel, Ginn Development’s president and CEO, told The Associated Press. “We got to a point where we had to give up on hope as a strategy. We just now have to figure out what’s in the best interest of our people, and I think that’s where a lot of companies are these days.”
Ginn said late last year that it was dropping the PGA Tour’s sur Mer Classic because of the ailing real estate market. But the LPGA event in Reunion, Fla., and the Champions Tour stop in Palm Coast, Fla., were both to be played on Ginn courses.
Last week, though, Ginn ended its real estate sales and marketing operations “due to the loss of revenue” that was the primary source of funding the purses and buying television coverage for the LPGA and Champions Tour events.
“We did the best we could, but the economy got the best of us,” Gidel said.
Losing the Ginn Open would figure to be a major hit to the LPGA. The event’s $2.5 million purse was the third-largest on that tour in 2008, behind only the U.S. Women’s Open and the Evian Masters.
If the Ginn Open is not replaced or restructured quickly, that would mean the LPGA Tour will offer only 30 events this year, with nearly $7.5 million less in prize money than players vied for last season.
Ginn still had three years remaining on its title sponsorship contract with the Champions Tour. PGA Tour spokesman Ty Votaw, who learned of the decision from a press release, said the tour had been willing to work with Ginn during the economic crisis.
“We were surprised to read this announcement and disappointed in it given the fact we have an existing agreement with Ginn, and we were in discussions with them on possible modifications to that agreement,” Votaw said. “We received no indication than an announcement like this was in the works.”
Votaw declined to elaborate on what modifications the tour had in mind, or whether Ginn owed the tour money for leaving the contract before it expired in 2011.
LPGA officials were in a meeting Wednesday and did not immediately respond to phone calls seeking comment.
Ginn broke into the golf scene quickly. The Ginn Open in 2006 made across-the-globe news, in large part because tournament officials gave then-13-year-old Dakoda Dowd, whose mother was dying of cancer, a sponsor’s exemption into the event.
The teen golf standout only played in the event that year, but the family has maintained a relationship with Ginn: The Ginn Open’s champion trophy was renamed last year in Kelly Jo Dowd’s memory.
“It would have been phenomenal to have Kelly Jo’s name on that trophy for years to come,” said Dowd’s father, Mike Dowd. “We got one year. It just shows you how bad things are. It’s scary. In that tumultuous time, that was one great week for us, and it’s going to be really sad that it’s gone.”
In all, Ginn hosted nine tournaments, starting with that 2006 LPGA event – and the company even made a brief foray into NASCAR sponsorship, before eventually seeing those operations taken over by Dale Earnhardt Inc.
“There’s going to be a lot of sad folks over this,” Mike Dowd said.