Growing the game: Why 4 tourneys in 7 weeks is ideal business opportunity for LPGA in N.J.

Commissioner (and former Princeton AD) Marcoux Samaan sees summer as perfect opportunity to attract fans, sponsors — and future players

Mollie Marcoux Samaan. (LPGA)

Let’s see: There’s the Cognizant Founders Cup that tees off Thursday morning at the Upper Montclair Country Club in Clifton.

Then, there’s the Mizuho Americas Open, which will be played from June 1-4 at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City. The ShopRite LPGA Classic, Presented by Acer, will be held the following week, June 9-11, at Seaview Golf Club in Galloway.

And then, this whirlwind of women’s golf activity will be capped from June 22-25 at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield with the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, a major.

Too much? LPGA Commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan doesn’t think so. In fact, she thinks the opposite.

Marcoux Samaan, who left her job as the athletic director at Princeton University to take the role two years ago, feels the saturation of events will help build the tour and the sport for fans — and sponsors.

“I think it gives us an opportunity to build momentum,” she said. “I think one of our main strategic goals is to build our fan base, and then keep people engaged in what we’re doing — and you do that with repetition.

“I think exposing this really important and dense market to the best players in the world on a consistent basis will help elevate us.”

The best certainly will be on display. Not only is a major included in the four-event run, but some of the biggest purses of the year. The Cognizant event has $3 million in prize money, two others are just under that — with the PGA Championship splitting $9 million.

Marcoux Samaan’s efforts to increase purses already is evident. The tour will award more than $100 million for the first time in 2023 — and more than 15% of that will be given out in Jersey.

Of course, growing the game is about more than just fans and prize money, it’s about the next generation, too. Marcoux Samaan said she’s hopeful the string of tournaments will build interest in the sport after the events are over.

New Jersey, known for producing world-class athletes in nearly every sport, has had a limited impact when it comes to female golfers.

“I think this year of golf in New Jersey is a perfect opportunity to change that,” she said.

Marcoux Samaan spoke this week with ROI-NJ about the year in women’s golf in the state — and a variety of other issues. Here’s a look at more of the conversation, edited for space and clarity.

ROI: The LPGA will be all over New Jersey in the next two months. At first glance — and a look at the sponsorship dollars — it certainly feels as if the interest is there. Talk about connecting with the business community.

Mollie Marcoux Samaan: New York and, in many ways, New Jersey is really the center of the business world. Our job is to continue to engage the right companies with the right values and the right commitment to women’s sports. We think it’s a perfect opportunity for the intersection of business and sport at the highest level.

Our job is to expose it to as many companies as we can and continue to build our brand. We’ve got some great partners in this market: Cognizant, Mizuho Americas, ShopRite, Acer and then KPMG with the Women’s PGA Championship. Those are really important brands. They see the impact.

I’m a hockey player, so it’s always about seeing where the puck is going, not where it is. So many brands see that — and I think there’s going to be much more interest in what we’re doing from others when they see what we’re all about.

ROI-NJ: You’ve talked about how this four-tournament stretch could be a milestone moment for growing interest in the game here. How is the LPGA taking advantage of this opportunity to reach new players?

MMS: If we do a really good job of marketing the LPGA through the television exposure, through the branding and through social media, we’ll get more girls interested in golf more broadly. But, then, I think it’s our responsibility to dig in and find those pockets of kids that might not have the resources to play golf or may not feel comfortable playing golf.

With our partnership with the USGA, we are really investing in the grassroots growth of the game. We just announced our 1 million more campaign, which is a celebration of the million girls that we’ve served since 1989. Our goal is to serve a million more. We’re at 30% of junior golfers are female at this point. And we want to turn that into 50%.

ROI: You were a two-sport star when you were a student at Princeton, playing soccer and ice hockey. Talk about the benefits girls get from sports?

MMS: Sports provide great gains for everyone, but particularly for girls. If you really project out what girls learn from playing sports, you’ll see it will transform their careers. It’s not just their happiness and growth as a kid, but it will take them to the next level of their life.

I think the statistic is 95% of female C-suite executives played sports. That’s gigantic. We think it’s our responsibility at the LPGA to dig in on the grassroots level and grow the game, grow the opportunities and make that happen.

ROI: Women’s sports have seemingly never been bigger — or more popular. In your mind, what has led to its rise?

MMS: I think people are seeing that, if you actually invest in something, and give it the value that it deserves, you will get that value in return. If you don’t invest in it and make it a second-tier thing, then you’ll get a second-tier result.

What I think people are seeing now is that there is a huge demand for women’s sports, huge interest, and — wow — these athletes are amazing. It’s valuable, it’s interesting, but we you have to put it out there more. We have to get people exposed to it. And, when you do that, the result will be there.