— In announcing that his company was not renewing the Michelob Ultra Open at Kingsmill,
executive Dan McHugh had nothing but praise for the most-popular event on the
The winner's purse, the fifth largest on the tour this year. The golf course, designed by the renowned Pete Dye. The gallery of past champions, which includes three Hall of Famers. The tournament officials and volunteers, and how they ran things in "a first-class manner."
But in the end, pulling the plug came down to one cold factor: financial strategy.
"The decision is based on a grand strategic decision to line up our
strategy with our PGA strategy," McHugh said at a Monday afternoon press conference. "We are going to continue our relationship with the LPGA. And one of the things we're looking to do is spread the dollars across multiple tournaments instead of just one location.
"We're looking to create a footprint in more tournaments than just Kingsmill. That's really driving our decision overall."
In other words, Anheuser-Busch will no longer be a title sponsor but will spread its funds through multiple tournaments. And after 29 years — the first 22 with the PGA, the last seven with the LPGA — professional golf is out at Kingsmill.
At least temporarily. Both tournament director Wayne Nooe and Eric Albrecht, vice president of marketing for the LPGA, expressed hope that the women's tour will someday return.
But barring the completely unexpected, that won't be in 2010.
"As we sit here in September, it would take a lot of quick work to make that happen," Albrecht said. "Not that it hasn't happened before, but it would be a challenge. If the dynamics are right and a group is able to secure a sponsor and funding, the LPGA would welcome the opportunity to come back to this area."
Given the economic climate, which already has led to some tournaments not being renewed, Monday's announcement didn't come as a surprise. But McHugh said a final decision wasn't reached until last week.
Nooe said because of that, there have been no discussions yet regarding another sponsorship or event coming to Kingsmill.
"Now that a decision has been made, we'll be talking with Eric about potential opportunities," he said. "A lot may be out there that Kingsmill would be a good fit for. I think we've proven we can put on a first-class event and we have the facilities to host such an event. If something does arise, we'd be very interested in speaking with them and moving forward."
The decision undoubtedly disappointed the Michelob participants and spectators. Two years ago, the Michelob Ultra Open was voted "Best Overall Event" and "Best Family Hospitality" by the players. A year later, the fans voted it "Best Overall Fan Experience."
The tournament was often referred to as "the fifth major." The 2009 winner's purse of $330,000 ranks fifth on this year's schedule behind the U.S. Women's Open ($585,000), the Evian Masters ($487,500), the Women's British Open ($335,000) and the Canadian Women's Open ($412,000).
It was known for drawing top-flight competition. In the 2009 tournament, for example, all but two of the top 60 players on the money list were in the field. And of the six champions (
won twice), three —
and Se Ri Pack — are in the Hall of Fame.
After her two-shot win last May, Kerr said it would be "a monumental loss for the LPGA" if the tournament did not return to Kingsmill. Sorenstam, who set a tournament record at 19-under in 2008, said it would be "sad."
McHugh, vice president of media, sponsorship and activation with Anheuser-Busch, understands those sentiments.
"This decision was very, very difficult to come to," he said. "We took our due diligence and spent a lot of time analyzing this past year's tournament along with the storied tradition of what we have here at Kingsmill.
"The volunteer group and the organization along with the support of the LPGA players has been second to none. It's always been run in a first-class manner. … We literally took up until last week to really do the evaluations and look at every angle.
"It really came down to that one strategic decision."