By Alex Miceli
All golf commissioners must create playing opportunities for tour members and continue to grow purses if they want to keep their jobs.
At the LPGA, the schedule has been a big focus for Mike Whan since he became commissioner in January 2010. In the ensuing seven seasons, the tour has grown from 24 tournaments awarding $41.4 million in 10 countries to 35 events this year paying a record $67.35 million in 15 nations.
Whan, who is under contract with the LPGA through 2020, received help toward his primary task with Wednesday’s announcement that Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Va., has been bought by Escalante Golf from Xanterra Kingsmill. The purchase price was not disclosed. The Virginia Gazette newspaper of Williamsburg reported the price as $29.3 million, citing documents filed with the James City County Clerk of the Circuit Court.
Kingsmill Resort includes three golf courses and 2,900 acres along the James River. The River Course, a Pete Dye design, played host to the PGA Tour’s Michelob Championship in 1981-2002. The LPGA has called Kingsmill’s River Course home since 2003, although the event was not played in 2010-11. Kingsmill’s other courses are the Plantation Course designed by Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay and the members-only Woods Course, a Curtis Strange-Tom Clark design.
With the Kingsmill acquisition, Fort Worth-based Escalante owns 16 properties in nine states spanning from North Carolina to California. Escalante’s portfolio includes The Gallery Golf Club and The Golf Club at Dove Mountain in Arizona, Sonoma Golf Club in California and the Golf Club of Houston in Texas.
All four sites have held or are holding PGA Tour or PGA Tour Champions events. Escalante intends to continue to host the Kingsmill Championship at the Virginia resort, but presenting sponsor JTBC is in the final year of its contract for the $1.3 million event, Escalante partner David Matheson said.
“Our goal is to keep the tournament here and make it bigger and better,” Matheson told Morning Read on Wednesday.
Whan was notified of the acquisition plans last Thursday before catching a plane to Thailand, site of last week’s Honda LPGA Thailand event.
According to sources, contract-extension talks with Kingsmill will start after Whan returns from Asia after this week. The LPGA is playing the HSBC Women’s Champions in Singapore this week.
“The Kingsmill Championship has always been one of the favorite tour stops amongst LPGA players, staff and fans alike,” Ricki Lasky, an LPGA business executive, said of the event scheduled for May 18-21. “We look forward to continuing our ongoing discussions with the resort and its new ownership group.”
LPGA competitors could see improved conditions at Kingsmill as soon as this spring, Matheson said. Escalante focuses on the agronomy at its properties, he said, adding that each acquisition has benefitted from improved turf conditions. That focus, combined with a stability of ownership, has helped make Escalante’s acquisitions profitable, he said.
In one example provided by Matheson, once Escalante acquired The Gallery in November, membership growth in January equaled what the Marana, Ariz., property had signed up over the past two years.
“We’re bullish on golf,” Matheson said. “There are pockets of the country that are doing very well.”
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: email@example.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli