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.
Last year's tournament generated approximately $166,000 in cash contributions and donations in kind, according to tournament officials, and nearly $1.5 million in the previous six seasons of LPGA events."I'd be very disappointed if the LPGA wasn't here for many years to come," Williamsburg mayor Jeanne Zeidler said. "The tournament brings national attention to the area and focuses attention on the golfing opportunities we have here in Williamsburg. The players are also wonderful role models for young women athletes."
A couple of factors in favor of extending the Mich Ultra's contract with the LPGA: Without spending one more dime, the tournament already is among the top tier of LPGA events, both in terms of purse size -- the $2.2 million purse is tied for fifth-highest -- and the experience for players and fans.
Kingsmill is an Anheuser-Busch property and full-service resort, which means the infrastructure already is in place for tournament golf and corporate hospitality. A-B InBev has full control over the setting and doesn't have to set up shop on someone else's turf.
For instance, for the past several years during tournament week, Anheuser-Busch has hosted a reception for the Korea American Grocers Association (KAGRO). Guests mingle with dozens of Asian golfers on the LPGA Tour, many of whom are major celebrities in their homeland.
"If you're here with KAGRO and you get an intro and an autograph and sit down and have a meal and a conversation with Se Ri Pak, you can't put a pricetag on that," said Eric Albrecht, the LPGA's Vice
President for Tournament Marketing and Sales. "When you can deliver something of such great value to your customers, those are experiences that money can't buy. That's what makes sponsorship really tick."
What's unclear, though, is the interest by A-B InBev's decision makers to keep the Kingsmill property, as well as nearby Busch Gardens and Water Country U.S.A. -- also A-B properties.
After the sale, beer industry and business analysts discussed the need for the new A-B InBev to sell off what was referred to as "non-core assets" -- generally considered company holdings that aren't directly related to the brewing and selling of beer.
In fact, an InBev press release from last summer said that the purchase of Anheuser-Busch "will be financed with at least $40 billion in debt, and a combination of divestitures in non-core assets and equity financing."
Asked last month about the "non-core assets" line, Schoen said, "I don't know where that quote came from, but all I can say is that when they came to us and said, 'How did you get a 50 share?' and we said, 'Sports was an integral part of that growth engine over 25 years. Do you still want to be in sports?' They said, 'If that grows your beer, grows your brands? Hell yes.' They're going to let us market our brands that got us the 50 share, so sports is a part of that. That doesn't seem like it's going to change."
What's changed is the economy.
Attendance is down at sporting events all over the country. Corporations have gone bankrupt, including some that sponsored professional sports. Others have pulled back their commitments. For instance, A-B recently announced it would sever its 30-year relationship with drag racing superstar Kenny Bernstein's team and that Budweiser no longer would be the official beer of the NHRA.
"Sports has tended to be viewed as recession-proof, but this economy has shown that it's a fallacy to believe that sports are immune to a bad economy," said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, and a former marketing executive with Intel.
One small, local indicator of the tight economy: the Mich Ultra's traditional Wednesday pro-am last year had 60 teams; this year's pro-am had 34 teams.
Of the LPGA, Swangard said, "For a property that was sort of fighting for 'mind-share' in a cluttered American sports marketplace, they enjoyed a little, what we call 'stickiness.' People had begun to pay attention. Then we moved into this next chapter."
Swangard said that the major professional leagues in this country -- the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball -- are less affected by pullbacks in spending by fans and sponsors than second-tier entities such as the LPGA.
Indeed, the LPGA is in the midst of a peculiar dynamic. The tour is as deep and talented as ever, its players as collectively engaging as ever. Yet the general perception is that women's golf is struggling.
The LPGA Tour calendar lost five tournaments from last year (it picked up three events in 2008, so the net loss over the two-year span is two). The Corning, N.Y., tournament, the tour's longest running event at 31 years, announced that this is its last year because it was unable to generate the requisite sponsorship dollars.
Several other tournaments, obviously including the Mich Ultra, are up for renewal as well.
"On the macro level," Swangard said, "I think that a good portion of the press coverage, vis a vis the LPGA, has focused on the elimination of events, the pullback of sponsorships. There's not enough coverage of the sport to begin with, so when the coverage moves toward something that can be seen as potentially negative, it can't help but have an impact on people's perception of the sport, even if it may be unfair.
"This is a world built on perception, more times than reality."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun