Futures Tour Faces Same Problems as LPGA and PGA in 2009

By: Dave Andrews

Players on the Duramed Futures Tour will probably have two fewer events in 2009 in which to compete for their LPGA Tour cards. There are 16 confirmed tournaments on the tour's upcoming schedule; there were 18 in 2008. In a statement released earlier this month, the tour indicated it still working on lining up other events for 2009 and may have something to announce after the first of the year.

While the tour actually picked up five new events for the upcoming season, it has lost seven tournaments from its 2008 schedule. Total purse money for the players will remain about the same in 2009 because several of the events have increased their individual purses. The average purse for the tour's 16 scheduled events will be nearly $106,000, up more than $9,000 from 2008.

The tour has lost events in McAllen, Texas; El Paso, Texas; Lake Geneva, Wis.; Syracuse, N.Y; Gettysburg, Pa.; Lakeland, Fla.; and Braselton, Ga. (a post-season invitational event not counted towards season money earnings). It added new tournaments in Winter Haven, Fla.; Rancho Viejo and San Antonio, Texas; Marion, Iowa; and Harrisburg, Pa.

The Futures Tour is no stranger to juggling its schedule. Like the LPGA, it is continuously gaining and losing sponsors and shifting the sites of its events. In fact, there are only four events in 2009 that have been on the tour's schedule for more than the past four seasons: Decatur, Ill.; Albany, N.Y.; Concord, N.H.; and Bloomfield, Conn. Over the tour's 28-year history, many events have lasted three or fours seasons and then gone by the wayside.

The fact that the tour can maintain a strong and meaningful schedule, with 16 to 19 events each year, is evidence of the marketing and promotional skills of its executives and staff, but it also points to the lack of staying power in the product the tour delivers to markets around the country. The tour generally plays its events in smaller economic and media markets than those where LPGA events are held. Working alongside local event directors in each market, it relies heavily on local title sponsors, other secondary sponsors, and proceeds from its pro-am events to pay the bills. Ticket sales to spectators account for only a small percentage of its revenue. Attendance at a typical event is usually only a few thousand people. The entry fee paid by the players themselves ($500 per player for each event) accounts for roughly $70,000 in revenue for each tournament.

Undoubtedly, the current state of the economy has not helped the tour as it has negotiated with potential new sponsors for the upcoming season and tried to hold onto existing ones. All of the professional golf tours are going through the same problems. Its parent organization, the LPGA, has also lost a couple of events in 2009, as has the PGA Tour.

There are a few multi-week gaps in the Futures Tour's schedule, making travel and logistics more difficult for staff and players alike. The LPGA has a similar problem with its U.S. schedule in July and August. LPGA players who do not qualify for the U.S. Women's Open or the Opens in France and Great Britain will have no place to play from early July until late August - a seven-week stretch in the heart of the summer season. There have been reports that the LPGA and Futures tours are trying to generate a couple of jointly coordinated events to fill the gap during that period.

The Futures Tour is the official developmental tour of the LPGA. Each year, the top five money winners on the tour earn full playing status on the LPGA tour for the upcoming year. Beginning with the 2008 season, the 6th through 10th finishers on the season's money list gain limited status on the LPGA for the following year.

The tour has renewed a contract with Duramed Pharmaceuticals, the title sponsor of the tour for the past three seasons. Duramed is a maker of several women's healthcare prescription products, including birth control pills. Duramed's parent company, Barr Pharmaceuticals, was formally acquired on December 23rd by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., an Israeli pharmaceutical company. It is unclear what the sale could mean to the future of Duramed's long-term relationship with the tour.

According to a member of the Barr Pharmaceuticals' board of directors, under the terms of the new sponsorship agreement, the tour's name will be officially changed to the Duramed Tour in 2009. That could take some getting used to for people who have followed the tour for nearly three decades. However, more important than its name will be the tour's ability to maintain support for its events in these turbulent economic times. The young women pros that play on the tour rely on its existence as their proving ground and the primary stepping stone to the LPGA.

The tour's first event of the 2009 season will be the Florida Natural Growers Charity Classic, March 20th to 22nd in Winter Haven, Fla.

Dave Andrews is a Harvard-educated former television news reporter. He's also an avid golfer who has become a fan of the Duramed Futures Tour. His home course in Concord, N.H., is annually the site of one of the tour's events. The inspiration for Dave's 2007 novel, "Pops and Sunshine," came from meeting many of the young aspiring women golfers on that tour. Each of them has a passion, dedication and determination that he finds remarkable. His novel is a fictionalization of the dream that these young women share. To order Dave's book, visit http://popsandsunshine.com.