WILLIAMSBURG—Once the oversized check is awarded, the temporary bleachers torn down and the hundreds of volunteers go home, some would say that the real work begins for the Michelob Ultra Open.
The future of the LPGA's annual tour stop at Kingsmill is in question. The two-year agreement between title sponsor Anheuser-Busch and the LPGA ends after this weekend's tournament.
A decision on renewal won't come until this summer or perhaps the fall, which isn't unusual in the world of professional golf tournament negotiations.
These particular negotiations, however, are complicated by both the struggling global economy and last year's sale of Anheuser-Busch to the Belgian brewery conglomerate InBev.
The newly formed Anheuser-Busch InBev is the world's largest beer manufacturer, with the entire A-B brand family, as well as respected imports such as Stella Artois, Bass and Beck's.
But the company also is in the process of corporate restructuring and re-examining how and where it spends money. Those discussions include advertising and the sponsorship of professional sports.
"I won't speak for them," LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens said, "but in all of our conversations, they're still figuring out what they're going to do and how they're going to do it."
Bivens said that she and LPGA brass have had several discussions with the A-B people in recent months about the Kingsmill tournament. They have conveyed and will continue to emphasize the benefits of retaining one of the LPGA Tour's signature events.
"If you look at the time that the whole deal closed and the world changed shortly after that," Bivens said, referring to the corporate sale and then the economic downturn. "Just as we are all, in our respective businesses, trying to fine-tune and adjust as we move along, so is the owner in the middle of a merger.
"One of the other things that you have is two cultures that are trying to get to know each other, so there's a little more complexity than there is for some of us who are charting our way through this economy."
Tim Schoen, Anheuser-Busch's Vice President for Sports and Entertainment Marketing, was non-committal about the company's future commitment to the Kingsmill event during a stopover last month to promote the tournament.
But he pointed out that A-B's broad-based involvement with sports in the past three decades has helped the company grow from a 25-percent share of the domestic market in 1980 to almost a 50-percent share today.
"So as the new owners come in and they ask us what fuels our brands," Schoen said, "sports is a big part of it. It's part of the DNA of the growth model. So, I don't see any drastic changes, because they want the brands to grow as well."
Anheuser-Busch has been a part of the golf and sporting landscape in this area for 29 years.
For 22 years, the PGA Tour staged an annual event at Kingsmill. But saddled with an unattractive calendar date -- just before the British Open -- and increasing title sponsorship financial demands, A-B backed out of the Kingsmill PGA event after the 2002 tournament and cast its lot with the LPGA in 2003.
The LPGA event immediately became one of the richest on tour, as well as one of the players' favorites. Where the PGA event always had trouble attracting quality fields because of its place on the calendar, the LPGA tournament routinely draws all of the top players. In just six years, its champions' list reads like a Who's Who of women's golf: Annika Sorenstam, Se Ri Pak, Grace Park, Karrie Webb, Suzann Pettersen, Cristie Kerr.
"One thing to factor in is it's the only major professional sport that comes into the area," said Bob Hershberger, Executive Vice President of the Williamsburg-James City County Chamber of Commerce.
"It's our hope that the folks at Anheuser-Busch InBev and the LPGA will be able to come to terms and the tournament will continue into the future," he said. "It's great exposure for this area, and it's certainly a way that we can give back into the community to service organizations that need those dollars to put on the programs that they do."
Indeed, part of the Mich Ultra's formula for success is the 1,500 volunteers, many of whom belong to various service organizations that receive charitable contributions generated by the tournament.