The Rise and Demise of the McDonald’s LPGA Tournament

Filed in National by on June 11, 2009

The McDonald’s LPGA Tournament, one of the crown jewels of the women’s golf tour, will cease to exist following this week’s finale at Bulle Rock C. C. in Maryland.

It is not clear whether the tournament, which is one of the LPGA’s four major tournaments, will continue with different sponsorship, will remain a major tourney, will remain in the mid-Atlantic region, or will survive at all. What IS clear is that the event, which, in its heyday, was contested at the DuPont C. C. for 18 consecutive years through 2004, is struggling in this economy. From Joe Juliano’s article in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer:

What Lotman and Quinn founded as the LPGA McDonald’s Classic starting in 1981 at White Manor Country Club in Malvern became the gold standard on any pro golf tour for an annual tournament that raised money for charity.

It went through a few name changes and became a major, the McDonald’s LPGA Championship, in 1994. But through all its incarnations, the event under the direction of Lotman and Quinn netted more than $47 million over the last 28 years for Ronald McDonald House Charities.

This week’s tournament, however, will be the last under the McDonald’s sponsorship. The event became a victim of a struggling economy that saw a rise in costs and reduced sponsorship combining to produce a sizable cutback on what was given to the beneficiary.

Realizing there was no reversing a downward trend that began with their final seasons at DuPont Country Club in Wilmington and continued at Bulle Rock in Havre de Grace, Md., beginning in 2005, Lotman and Quinn notified LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens that they wanted to end their involvement with the second-oldest major on the women’s tour after 2009.

Lotman said this year’s charitable contribution “probably won’t be much.”

The way that the tournament left Wilmington and questions about whether the State (i. e. Ruth Ann Minner) were sufficiently engaged, remain in dispute:

Lotman said DuPont was solidly behind the tournament for much of its 18-year run in Wilmington. The pro-am, contested on two courses during the week of the event, was getting more than $10,000 each for some spots, and DuPont provided about 100 players. Ninety percent of the sponsors were McDonald’s suppliers, he said.

“They set the bar for a lot of other events,” said Dottie Pepper, a commentator for NBC and Golf Channel who competed in the tournament during her playing career. “They leveraged their ties within McDonald’s and the food industry to raise money. They were two guys that put a stamp on the way to run a successful charity championship.”

However, times started getting tough. DuPont reduced its involvement in the pro-am, and sponsorship in the Wilmington area was drying up. The golf course was at the center of increasing complaints by players.

“The management changed at DuPont and a couple of the other large local folks stopped supporting us,” Quinn said. “So we, in effect, had to take a look at what other options we had. When you think about it, had the support continued, we’d have been there [in Wilmington] forever.”

Delaware officials protested what they called hasty action to move the tournament before they could submit a counterproposal. Lotman, however, insisted that state and DuPont officials were kept informed of their plans.

El Somnambulo remembers taking his daughters to this event. It had a lot of local support.  Many of the players stayed year after year at the homes of families in the area. Delaware really lost more than just a revenue-generating event when the LPGA left town. It lost a rallying point for the entire community. ‘Bulo, for one, is sad to see this noble event disappear from the scene.

About the Author ()

Comments (16)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. John Manifold says:

    It was the dumbest move since Finley moved the A’s to Oakland. There was nothing that state government could have done. The event’s bean-counters made a silly decision because they got a nice offer from a golf club trying to raise its profile. Can’t blame Chad or RAM or anyone else in Delaware.

  2. You may be right, John. It happened so suddenly that it reminded ‘bulo of Irsay sneaking the moving vans out of Baltimore in the dead of night moving the beloved Colts to Cleveland.

    ‘Bulo was watching the McDonald’s on TV today, and it looked like you could number the crowd in the dozens. Sad.

  3. pandora says:

    My Dad is there today. He loves it, and will be heartbroken that it’s ended.

  4. FSP says:

    “It happened so suddenly that it reminded ‘bulo of Irsay sneaking the moving vans out of Baltimore in the dead of night moving the beloved Colts to Cleveland.”

    Indy. You mean Indy. The Browns moved TO Baltimore. Too traumatic to even think about.

  5. I’m sorry to hear the tournament is leaving. That will be a huge loss for the state. Is there a “save the tournament” movement starting?

  6. Yep. Still fixated on the Colts’ trivia ‘test’ from “Diner’.

    It was the Browns who moved to Baltimore from the great football town of Cleveland.

    Both of which deserved championship teams more than the Irsay-Come-Lately burg of Indianapolis.

  7. Joanne Christian says:

    UI-The tournament already MD.

    Som–what a page from the past, and a load of crock from the organizers. Guess they thought time would ease their sneaky, blindsiding, grab from Dupont CC, and garner pity under cover of business venture gone bad with the face of hard economic times for charities. As an adult child, of parents who every year volunteered home, autos, time and talent to this worthy cause–right down to buying your own IZOD “official” uniform year after year, believe me these people were lucky to make it to Havre de Grace. The back story was this tournament was “given” to a friend who was opening a club in Havre de Grace, and this duo wanted to toss the work his way. Well, they miscalculated selfless women like my mother, who would fly in from Florida to share whatever needed, having a home right by the club, street blocked off by police, and work long days everyday before, during and after the tournament to see it through. The golfers and sponsors loved it, and all the personalized attention, chaffeuring etc. they received–constantly remarking it was the best spot on the circuit–both welcoming, friendly etc. And believe me after 18 years or whatever, they were beyond pleasantries. Those yo-yos ABRUPTLY announced the discontinuance of the Delaware tournament, and then have the audacity to “look forward to everyone’s volunteer commitment in (sic) nearby Havre de Grace”. There you go a residential, and transportation crossroad! Oh well, guess some people don’t know how to treat a hostess from the help, when you depend on them so much. No doubt, few answered the call for that wagon train. But the club and volunteers were dissed–no matter how the organizers want to reconstruct those days of yore…..don’t let the door hit you…..

  8. anonone says:

    Hey ‘Bulo, remember when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? 🙂

  9. El Somnambulo says:

    JC-Thanks for that post from the inside. ‘Bulo thinks that that’s the REAL story. What’s interesting is that, while some of the volunteers felt totally betrayed by what happened, other Delaware vols indeed did follow the tourney down to Bulle Rock, and continued to help.

    What really made the tourney were the legions of people like your mom who made Delaware both a destination and a home, not just another anonymous week on the road.

    In retrospect, they were doomed to fail from the moment they left town. Thanks for letting everyone know just how special this event was.

  10. RSmitty says:

    The back story was this tournament was “given” to a friend who was opening a club in Havre de Grace, and this duo wanted to toss the work his way

    Exactly the way I remember it, too. Total sweetheart deal turned black.

  11. RSmitty says:

    …which, in its heyday, was contested at the DuPont C. C. for 18 consecutive years through 2004…
    For a few of those years (’91-’94), I worked at the Bennigan’s (can anyone say Shenanigan’s?) on the Concord Pike, where I both bartended and waitered. This was the annual highlight. Obviously, the business gave us the best tipping weeks of the year, but the people coming in were almost 100% happy and in good spirit (then I happily gave them more good spirit – except for the dude who drank Drambuie straight – ungh, nasty). Whether it was the volunteers, staff, or the pro-golfers, almost each and every one of them were very cool people and sociable. Although it was technically work, it was a freaking party. Easily my favorite week of the year while working there.

  12. anonone says:

    I wonder if it was a round robin?

    Hey, didn’t some sportscaster make a comment about lesbians at this event that got him fired or something?

  13. RSmitty says:

    Wrong joke. It was a birdie.

  14. anonone says:

    Did you see the bird’s wings? He had a hole in one.

  15. anonone asked: “Hey, didn’t some sportscaster make a comment about lesbians at this event that got him fired or something?”

    Ben Wright. Apparently he was (a) ‘in his cups’ and (b) resentful that they were the only cups he could get into. Here’s the story: