NEW YORK – When KPMG, the LPGA and The PGA of America joined forces on Thursday to announce the formation of the KPMG Women's PGA Championship, it was a shot in the arm for the growth of the game.
The PGA of America is made up of 27,000 men and women golf professionals, but until Thursday, the women didn't have a major to truly call their own.
PGA CEO Pete Bevacqua was on hand at 30 Rock's Studio 8H – the home of "Saturday Night Live" – to make the announcement with LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan and LPGA star and world No. 2 Stacy Lewis, who is sponsored by KPMG.
"For the PGA of America, we have a twofold mission," Bevacqua said. "We are all about serving our members and growing the game, and for us, this is a major step in supporting the women's game. We believe in that. We believe in diversity in the sport. We believe in inclusion in the sport. What's powerful to us is the KPMG Women's PGA Championship, one of the majors in women's golf, is not just going to be a success on the golf course at the major championship level but it's going to be more than that."
The KPMG Women's PGA Championship will continue the rich tradition of the LPGA Championship and will rotate annually among prestigious courses in major metropolitan markets. In its first year, the Championship will be held in 2015 at the Westchester Country Club in Rye, N.Y., with a purse among the highest in women's golf at $3.5 million. The Championship will be operated by The PGA of America in close collaboration with the LPGA. NBC's Golf Channel will televise the event for the first two rounds and it will move to NBC for the weekend.
The network exposure is also a huge boost for women’s golf.
So how did this idea come together for The PGA of America to run a prestigious women's major?
"When we started talking about this internally with our officers and with our board, it was an easy decision," Bevacqua said, of teaming up with the LPGA and KPMG. "We believe that the future of golf, a critical, beyond critical component of that, is women. And what can we do as an organization with our scope and our sphere of influence in this industry to grow the game in that regard? And that's why the conversations with Mike [Whan] and the LPGA and John [Veihmeyer, Global Chairman of KPMG] were really so effortless.
"We believe in golf," he added. "We would love to grow the game. How do we get the energies of these organizations together and point them in one direction to grow the game? What's exciting for us, our mission is to serve our members and grow the game. We are going to have spots for our women PGA professionals and LPGA club professionals, much like the PGA Championship. They will play into this championship, and for us, that's a critical component."
Needless to say, women PGA Professionals were ecstatic over the news.
"This is a great opportunity for women that have chosen a career path in golf, either as a PGA or LPGA T&CP member, to showcase their playing ability,” said Karen Paolozzi, a teaching professional from Druid Hills Golf Club in Atlanta, who will be the only woman competing against men in next month's PGA Professional National Championship in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where the top 20 finishers earn a berth into the PGA Championship this August at Valhalla. “This announcement is a great step towards growing the game. More and more women and picking up the game of golf and this will hopefully encourage more to do the same.”
"This announcement is so exciting and to see our Association's hard work come to fruition makes this a great day," said Suzy Whaley, Director of Instruction for Suzy Whaley Golf at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn. "Our Championships are of the highest caliber and the KPMG Women's PGA Championship as a part of that family makes our commitment to golf's greatest championships complete."
Whaley is no stranger to competitive golf. In July 2003, she was the first woman to qualify and participate in a PGA Tour event in 58 years, joining the legendary Babe Zaharias as the only other women to have achieved that feat.
By virtue of winning the Connecticut PGA Section Championship – the first time a woman professional won the tournament – Whaley earned an exemption into what is now known as the Travelers Championship at TPC River Highlands.
"As an Association, we understand that women are a vital part to the growth of our sport and we as members of the largest sports organization in the world are committed to increasing women's participation in the game," Whaley said after Thursday's announcement. "This event will showcase all the benefits golf offers and will introduce our PGA Members and LPGA Members to our consumers giving them the pathway to enjoy golf for a lifetime. I am so proud to be both a PGA member and a LPGA Member. Together we are making a difference in our sport."
The PGA of America has many women among its 27,000 members and the LPGA has its own Teaching and Club Pro division. For the 2015 championship, Whan said the field would include about eight spots for club professionals – the men's PGA Championship currently features 20 PGA Professionals who qualify based on their finish in the PGA Professional National Championship.
Kerry Haigh, the PGA's Chief Championship Officer and Membership Director Tom Brawley verified that all female PGA of America members and apprentices who are in good standing are eligible to compete Aug. 24-27, in the LPGA Teaching & Club Professional National Championship, at Chateau Elan in Braselton, Ga.
More details on the qualifying process will be released soon.
"We are going to be announcing those details to both of our memberships, because we need to retain that component," Bevacqua said. "We felt that eight is the right number. We will evaluate that number after 2015 and see if we should increase it, but we feel it's a great start in the right direction. Because for us, so much of the importance and so much of the value of this championship, in addition to growing the game, is making sure our membership is a part of it."
"From the LPGA's perspective, on the men's side, you have 20,000 members competing for 20 spots, and on the women's side, we'll have a little over 2,000 members between our organizations competing for eight spots, and similar, and quite frankly, a little better opportunity for both of our organizations to play together; and really at the teaching club professional level and female PGA member, this is a unique opportunity for us to spend more time together to actually play together and to play in this tournament," Whan added.
"When you think about all that's going on to grow the game for women this whole week, a lot of the messages you'll be hearing from us are the different programs and what the members are doing that are not playing inside the ropes, provide opportunities and employment for women in this great game."
Under its former name, the LPGA Championship will be contested for the final time Aug. 14-17 at Monroe Golf Club outside Rochester, N.Y.