Rob Ridley looks at how a brand new event for ladies golf, The Queens, could attract a whole new demographic of fans from its key Asian market.
Japan will be the setting for a new team tournament, bringing together four of the major women’s golf tours, amid efforts to explore innovative initiatives to grow the game on a global basis.
The Queens will run from December 4-6 at Miyoshi Country Club in Nagoya and has been forged through cooperation between the Ladies European Tour (LET), Australian Ladies Professional Golf (ALPG), Korean Ladies Professional Golf Association (KLPGA) and the Ladies’ Professional Golfers’ Association of Japan (JLPGA).
LET chief executive Ivan Khodabakhsh has been behind concerted efforts to introduce a new way of thinking to women’s golf since joining the Tour in January 2013 from his prior role as chief operating officer of the World Series of Boxing.
“When I joined the LET I decided to see how we can grow women’s golf and work more closely with the other tours,” Khodabakhsh told SportBusiness International.
“So I sought a dialogue, not just on the basis of creating a tournament together, but also how we can work more closely as a collective.
“The Solheim Cup is a very good example of how we work very closely with the LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) and this was the birthplace for The Queens – to create a tournament where we have teams from the LET, Korean LPGA, Japanese LPGA and ALPG.
“From a purely governance and organisational point of view, the tours run parallel to each other and we see each other now and again, but to work together on one tournament means the cooperation increases and that can only be healthy for the growth of women’s golf.”
Teams of nine players will represent each of the four tours at The Queens. Rob Ridley looks at how a brand new event for ladies golf, The Queens, could attract a whole new demographic of fans from its key Asian market.
The opening two days of the tournament will feature four ball and foursomes match play, with eight players from each team competing each day.
The final day’s play will see all nine players from each team compete in singles match play, with a points system determining the overall winner.
Khodabakhsh believes there is a gap in the market for more women’s team tournaments in a bid to freshen up the golf calendar.
“From a fans perspective, almost every week there is a men’s or women’s 72-hole stroke play event,” he says. “So there is a lot of the same product around.
“With match play, and we see this with the Solheim Cup, it is extremely exciting. To have a team match play tournament with a different format involving four tours against each other I think is hugely interesting and will bring fans across the world behind their respective teams.”
The West Course at Miyoshi Country Club has previously hosted several championships, including the Munsingwear Ladies Tokai Classic, Tokai Ladies Classic and Japan Women’s Open in 1998.
The Queens will offer total prize money of Y100m, with the winning team taking home Y45m plus a further Y1m to donate to the charity of its choice.
Nagoya-headquartered trading and manufacturing company Kowa has signed up as presenting sponsor of The Queens, while the event has also received strong backing from broadcast group Mainichi Broadcasting System – a factor that Khodabakhsh acknowledges was crucial in Japan being assigned hosting rights.
“We were just very fortunate with first of all JLPGA and Kowa taking a strong interest in this format, and then a broadcaster in MBS, which is also acting as the promoter of the event, coming on board,” he said.
“Without this, we at the LET would have had to put a lot of resources behind it. So it just worked out that Japan had the first interest from sponsors to organise the tournament.”
Regarding the possibility of future editions of The Queens being rotated amongst the four tours, Khodabakhsh added: “This year’s format we hope will be replicated again next year in Japan and then, as the event grows, we will see where it goes to.”
With the Solheim Cup already well established, The Queens will add another team event to the calendar after the LPGA launched its International Crown tournament in 2014.
Spain won the inaugural edition of the national team event last year, with the Crown set to return at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Illinois from July 18-24, 2016, before switching to Korea in 2018.
Providing the same 72-hole stroke play tournaments is not good enough to enhance our fanbase in different regions
However, Khodabakhsh stresses the two events will not be in competition. “This is not a case of being against the International Crown. We need more creative tournaments and are very happy with what the LPGA is doing,” he added.
“We need to excite people around the globe with different types of events. The same 72-hole stroke play tournaments are not good enough to enhance our fanbase in different regions.
“I believe if somebody enjoys the International Crown, they will also enjoy The Queens, and vice versa.”
An Alternative View
The Queens will be broadcast live on television globally on days two and three, following the LET’s established media model.
Highlights will be made available of the opening day’s action, while The Queens will be live streamed in high-definition worldwide, excluding markets in which broadcast agreements are already in place.
The rights in Japan are with the JLPGA, in Korea with the KLPGA and in Australia with the ALPG,” Khodabakhsh says.
So they market The Queens inside their own territories. Everything outside these three countries is being marketed by the LET.
“We make up the total global distribution and have provided our broadcast partners to get the pictures out there. It’s the same distribution base that was in place for the (2015) Solheim Cup. Every year we are enhancing that and there is huge interest from our current broadcast partners in The Queens.”
Designed to be an annual event, Khodabakhsh admits that The Queens represents a step into the unknown for women’s golf.
The LET chief states the Tour, and the event’s other stakeholders, are prepared to take on board all learning experiences from the inaugural tournament.
“We will test the water and see how it works. At the very least, it has brought four very successful tours together to see how we can operate with each other and reach more fans for women’s golf,” he added.
“Innovation is at the heart of it, and innovation doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be immediately successful. We very much hope that it works but if it doesn’t we will look for more ideas.”