Golf charity falls short of green

The Baltimore Sun

Despite a slight increase in attendance this year to more than 92,000 for the week, and another scintillating finish Sunday, the founding co-chairman of the McDonald's LPGA Championship openly questions the support the tournament is receiving from the corporate community and the state of Maryland.

As a result, the long-term future of the event remaining in Harford County is up for debate.

"I wouldn't say there's [an immediate] concern about the future of the tournament here - we have a couple of years on the contract - but we're definitely concerned that the numbers are going down and we're hoping to figure out ways for them to go back up," Frank Quinn said Sunday afternoon.

"There's no question that we need more business support. Whether that would come from Baltimore or Wilmington or Harford County, I can't tell you. If it keeps going down, obviously at some point we're going to have problems."

Since coming to the upscale public course in Havre de Grace in 2005 after 18 years at DuPont Country Club and 24 in Wilmington, Del., the tournament's charitable donation to the Ronald McDonald House Charities has dropped precipitously.

After averaging around $2 million a year since moving to DuPont in 1987, and $1.5 million the first two years at Bulle Rock, Quinn announced at the post-tournament champion's ceremony Sunday night that the donation would be only $1 million this year.

Though the crowd that remained around the 18th green after Suzann Pettersen's one-stroke victory over Hall of Famer Karrie Webb applauded Quinn's announcement of this year's donation, the cheers seemed to ring a little hollow to Quinn.

One of the reasons the tournament left Wilmington was because corporate support there had waned and the charitable donations had dropped from as much as $2.5 million in 1990 to $1.6 million in 2004, the last year at DuPont.

"In our business, what we're trying to do is raise money for kids," Quinn said. "So we need to be where we can raise money for kids. Hopefully it starts going back up the other way, and we can be around here for a long time. ... I can't think of a better place in the country to be at."

A major stumbling block could be if the state's lack of support of the tournament continues to trickle down to the corporate sponsors. According to Quinn, the charitable donation is derived more from the selling of spots in the two pro-ams and corporate tents than from ticket sales and concessions.

Under the administration of former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the state contributed $75,000 in each of the first two years in Havre de Grace. Ehrlich's wife Kendall, an avid golfer, served as the tournament's honorary chairwoman, and Ehrlich attended the final round each year.

No state money

Under the new administration of Martin O'Malley, the state did not give the tournament financial help. In its last year at DuPont, the tournament received no financial support from the state of Delaware. The previous two years the state took out ads on television and threw a party one year.

"There are states and states and states that give money to golf tournaments that come to their town," Quinn said. "To me, it's a decision that was not well thought out."

Maureen Kilcullen, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Business and Economic Development, was not available for comment.

Jim Richardson, the director of the Office of Economic Development for Harford County, said yesterday that the LPGA Championship brought in a projected $5.4 million in revenue from hotels, restaurants and other businesses that attracted fans, media, tour players and officials during tournament week.

Richardson was not aware of Quinn's feelings about a lack of corporate support.

"Absolutely it's a concern to us," said Richardson, who estimates the county spent $10,000 to promote the event. "I'll be working in the next year to drum up additional corporate sponsors. We weren't involved in that this year, but it's certainly something we'll take on as another project, that's for sure."

Quinn recognizes that there are two other professional golf tournaments in the area, including a major championship on the Champions Tour, to compete with the LPGA Championship for corporate and state support. But Quinn said that history suggests there is enough support to spread around.

"One year we had the Senior PGA Championship in Philadelphia and the LPGA Championship [in Wilmington] exactly the same week, and we gave $1.8 [million] or something like [that]. It shouldn't impact it," Quinn said.

Quinn said there were no plans to move the tournament, a sentiment echoed before the tournament by second-year LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens. But Bivens offered a cautionary word about its future at Bulle Rock.

"Every year in this situation, golf courses, golf clubs, everyone re-evaluates. It's a huge commitment for a club to make to hold a tournament every year," Bivens said. "I don't think anybody ever thinks everything is forever."

Friendship dividend

Herb Lotman, who along with Quinn founded the tournament and brought it to Wilmington as a regular tour event in 1981, took it to Bulle Rock because of his long-standing business relationship with club owner John Paterakis, whose Baltimore-based H&S; Bakery has made buns for McDonald's for years.

According to longtime tournament director Chris Gabriel, Paterakis doesn't charge McDonald's for use of the course, which also was a factor in the decision to move the tournament from DuPont, which rented the course for around $100,000.

Rick Rounsaville, general manager and director of golf at Bulle Rock since the club opened in 1998, said that hosting the tournament has served the course well in terms of its national reputation.

"We're very happy with the tournament," Rounsaville said. "One of the reasons we took it was because Bulle Rock was built as a championship course with the idea of holding a major championship. We felt it would move Bulle Rock up in the worldwide ranking of golf."

The issue is certainly not the course itself. Designed by respected golf architect Pete Dye, Bulle Rock has been well-received by the players and got its highest marks this year when it played hard and fast because of the warm, dry weather.

"I think the course all through the week played a lot more like a major," said Lorena Ochoa, the world's No. 1-ranked female player who finished tied for sixth this year. "It's a good challenge."

Quinn, whose headquarters are still in Wilmington, would like it stay at Bulle Rock. There was a report last year that was recently denied by Bivens that suggested she shopped the event around after Lotman and Quinn sold the television rights to the Golf Channel after years on CBS.

There has been speculation that the LPGA would move its championship to the Kingsmill Resort and Spa in Williamsburg, Va., site of the Michelob Ultra Open, considered by the players as the tour's "fifth major." Also, real estate developer Bobby Ginn, whose company is the corporate sponsor for two LPGA events, has reportedly lobbied to make one of them a major.

"To me this is a beautiful place," Quinn said. "The owner is one of our best friends. We'd hate like hell to leave here. We loved Delaware. I know we have to solve the problem."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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