Strange things overheard at Carolyn Bivens press conference

On Thursday I drove to Oakville to the headquarters of the blue blazers set for a press conference involving new LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens. The resuling article is below.

Over the course of the press conference, there were some very odd remarks made by Bivens, RCGA exec director Stephen D. Ross and Rick “This guy sounds dangerous” Desrochers. Bivens’ odd comment was in response to a question coming from Globe golf columnist Lorne Rubenstein:

“Lorne, you are much better looking than you sounded on the phone yesterday,” Bivens said. Is it just me, or is this an unusual comment to make to a major newspaper writer in the midst of an interview?

In the case of the RCGA, Desrochers asked Ross, “Do you need your puffer?” In another instance, Ross asked whether a remark was “fair, as I react to the puppet strings.” In fact several times Ross referred to Desrocher as the “puppet” handler. Very odd. But I expect nothing less….

Here’s the resulting column on Bivens:

Controversial Bivens brings women’s golf back to the fore: Outspoken LPGA commissioner means business

Robert Thompson

On Golf

Though she’s only had the job for 10 months, Carolyn Bivens has quickly established herself as arguably the most business-minded and controversial commissioner the LPGA has had to date. And that’s saying something, especially when you consider Bivens’ predecessor, Ty Votaw, actually dated a player on tour and still didn’t garner as much attention.

So far in her tenure, Bivens has gone to war with the Associated Press over media credentials, decided against offering Michelle Wie an age exemption that would land her on tour regularly, and battled with tournament organizers. She’s openly pondered changing the LPGA Tour’s majors tournaments and has seen many of the golf tour’s senior staff depart.

At the same time, there’s never been more interest in the LPGA, with emerging stars like Morgan Pressel, Wie, Natalie Gulbis, as well as veterans like Annika Sorenstam, Se Ri Pak and a resurgent Karrie Webb all elevating the competition level of the game.

Bivens, who was at Glen Abbey Golf Club yesterday to discuss next month’s Canadian Women’s Open, said the LPGA is seeing expansive growth, and pointed to huge audience gains for LPGA Tour telecasts as proof that the new strategy is working. The “new” LPGA Tour, with its focus on youth, is attracting a different demographic within its fan base, she noted, pointing to stars like Paula Creamer as leading the way.

“We have young girls showing up wearing pink ribbons and pink blouses trying to get noticed by Paula Creamer,” Bivens said, referring to the so-called Pink Panther, who won her first tournament on the LPGA Tour before graduating high school. “But a lot of 20-year-old guys are also showing up in pink shirts hoping to get noticed by Paula, too.”

Perhaps given the interest in the youth movement, Bivens is interested in an overhaul of the tour’s rules that limit members to those over the age of 18. Players can ask for a commissioner’s exemption, but Bivens said she would prefer a system that allowed younger players to play a restricted number of events without being forced to ask for inclusion on the tour.

The rule has been a significant issue for 16-year-old Wie, who has not asked for an exemption and therefore can only play eight events per year. Though some have suggested Wie is the Tiger Woods of women’s golf, Bivens downplayed that role, stating the interest in the LPGA Tour is not due to a single player.

“We have a wealth of riches,” she noted.

Despite Bivens’ comments, audience indicators suggest a lot of the interest in women’s golf has been generated by Wie. At the Kraft Nabisco Championship at the end of March, ratings were 76% higher with Wie in contention down to the last hole.

In some ways, it’s not surprising that Bivens has had a difficult time establishing herself in the world of golf, since prior to taking the commissioner position, she had little sports experience. Instead, Bivens had excelled in the world of media, working on the marketing and circulation side of newspaper giant USA Today, as well as running Initiative Media North America, the largest media services firm in the U.S.

For someone with such media experience, Bivens has been at the receiving end of some critical coverage. As recently as this week, the New York Times ran a large feature on her time with the LPGA under the banner “LPGA’s Leader Is Finding Some Rough,” noting the commissioner is battling with several tournaments over the fees they pay the LPGA, which she hopes to raise five fold.

Bivens said the issues were due to her desire to change and expand the LPGA Tour and offer benefits and support to players that is akin to any other major sport.

Certainly there seems to be some optimism that under the Bivens regime the Canadian Women’s Open will regain some of the status it has lost since 2000, when it was stripped of its major status after du Maurier Ltd.’s withdrawal as sponsor. Prior to the last minute rescue by Canadian National Railway last year, the Canadian Women’s Open seemed destined for the scrap heap. The tournament was neglected by the LPGA Tour after the tobacco company left the picture, and stumbled under the support of the new sponsor, Bank of Montreal. The bank decided not to renew its sponsorship last year after five years of backing the tournament.

Television ratings for the tournament have dipped dramatically in recent years, and even with CN now firmly supporting the tournament and raising its pursue, the event still competes with Annika Sorenstam’s home tournament in Sweden for the top players in women’s golf.

However, Bivens said the Canadian women’s event will have a new date next year that doesn’t conflict with Sorenstam’s tournament, adding it is very ingrained in the tour’s rotation of events as the LPGA turns to international markets.

“Canada is a very important part of this international equation,” she said.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

4 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Bivens is a certifiable wacko. It will be interesting to see whether she’ll still be at the helm come December, 2007. My money’s on “no” right now.

    And for the love of all that’s good, grant that Wie gal membership to the LPGA Tour already.

  • Say what you want about Bivens, at least she is not spending her time dating LPGA player like her predecessor….She was brought on by the board of the LPGA to capitalize on the new stars and the emerging women’s golf market, her lack of golf background notwithstanding.

  • KC, you must have drunk the lemonade. Emerging women’s market actually shows that WOMEN playing golf was down about 4% last year.

    Personally, I will NEVER believe anything Bivens says about TV ratings until she is willing to provide everyone the actual year to year numbers for all events. Yes Kraft was UP, that was great. What were the numbers for the match play – HSBC? DOWN? She is spinning as hard as she can, but being from Missouri, show me the actual numbers. Call the LPGA and ask for TV ratings for events for the last three years, they will tell you that they do not give that information out. Why NOT??

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