LPGA's future at Kingsmill resort uncertain

LPGA’s future at Kingsmill resort uncertain

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Cristie Kerr made the putt that clinched her second Michelob Ultra Open at Kingsmill on Sunday and almost immediately began lobbying for Anheuser-Busch to renew its commitment to the tournament at the resort along Virginia’s James River.

But the beer-maker, which also owns the host Kingsmill Resort & Spa, said that while it considers the event a success, it will be months before a sponsorship decision is made.

Dan McHugh, the American brewer’s vice president of media sponsorship, said the company plans to conduct a thorough assessment of how much bang it got for its marketing buck – a regular process that takes a minimum of 60 to 90 days.

“In no way has a decision even been discussed or talked about until we sort of go through that assessment period and we all sit down,” McHugh said at the resort, where a hovering cloud of doubt had players like Kerr lobbying all weekend.

“It’s what you hear, but I don’t really know,” Kerr said when asked if the prevailing chatter among players centered on their fear they were making their final visit to Kingsmill.

“I’ll play golf with whoever they want to try and keep the tournament,” Kerr joked, before winning the $2.2 million tournament for the second time in its seven years in Virginia.

The tournament was played a week after the second-ever LPGA Summit, during which players were encouraged to do all they could to help secure sponsors going forward. The tournament seemed to highlight difficulties the tour is facing, having already lost a handful of events.

McHugh downplayed the looming negativity, but said the company’s merger-acquisition by Belgian brewer InBev has caused a review of its sponsorship spending. He said talk that Anheuser-Busch is doing less in the way of sponsorship is false.

“What I can tell you with this new company is we have not cut back sponsorships,” McHugh said. “There’s so many rumors out there that, ‘Wow! They’re getting out of everything,’ which is absolutely probably the opposite of what’s going on. There’s always a continued ebb and flow with our sports marketing properties, our media sponsorships. While we might get out of something over here, we’re always looking at what’s the new thing for the consumer.”

The company’s assessment of the event will include a look at sales of the sponsor beer in a seven-state area where there were displays geared toward the tournament, the number of $5 off admission coupons used in the immediate area, television ratings and other measures of exposure.

David Higdon, spokesman for the LPGA Tour, said officials are “cautiously optimistic. I think the economy has put everything in question and we’re fully aware of that, but this is an event that has been just been so strong for Anheuser-Busch and for the LPGA,” he said.

The tour’s focus is on continuing with the tournament sponsored by Anheuser-Busch, Higdon said, but if the company does discontinue its sponsorship at Kingsmill, or if it sells the resort, the tour is hopeful the company will sponsor an event elsewhere, and also hopeful that conversations with several unidentified potential sponsors could keep the LPGA in Virginia.

It helps, he said, that Kingsmill and the Williamsburg area already have a history with the tour and an infrastructure in place.

“We’re talking to many companies that are looking for just these kind of events,” he said.

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