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Inside the Ropes at the LPGA International Crown

July 24 2014, Neal Reid

Social lounge helps fans stay connected to players

LPGA fans are extremely dedicated supporters of the Tour, and they often use social media to stay connected to their favorite players.

For any of them lucky enough to be at Caves Valley Golf Club this week, they will have the opportunity to use a first-of-its-kind social media hub to stay locked into International Crown action, both on and off the golf course. Thanks to the tournament’s Social Media Lounge, located behind the 17th green, fans can monitor Tweets and Instagram posts from around the world pertaining to the International Crown and its players, and that’s not all.

Thanks to International Crown hash tags for the event itself and each of the eight teams, fans can watch the social conversation about the tournament from around the world on a flat-screen TV in the Social Media Lounge. Through the NUVI system, LPGA social media staffers are able to monitor social media correspondence from around the globe in real time and display it for fans.

Fans can rest and relax on couches in the lounge and recharge their phones at the UL Charging Station next to the Lounge. The Tour is also providing free Wifi in the Social Lounge for all fans who stop by for a visit.

It is the first time the LPGA has set up a Social Lounge at an event, and the plan is to expand the program in the future.

“We’re hoping it will be a success and we can take it on the road to more LPGA events,” said Tina Budd, LPGA senior director of social media, marketing and communications. “The concept is to showcase the conversation about the International Crown and the individual teams from around the world and watch people rooting from around the world for their favorites.”

The Social Media Lounge has another flat-screen that will carry live coverage of the International Crown on Golf Channel, so fans can rest and watch the telecast before heading back out to see the action for themselves. They can also try on an array of crowns and take “crown selfies,” as well as have their photo taken on “royal thrones.”

“Watching the World Cup and how they did such a great job with Twitter and all of their social media and how the fans really got behind that, it clicked that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” Budd said. “So, we decided to go for it and promote it to get the fans to get behind it. We have all embraced social media and are not afraid to think outside the box and try new things like the Social Media Lounge, and doing something like this helps engage the fans.”

In addition, any Tweets fans make while using hash tags for the International Crown or its teams will be displayed on a jumbotron located next to the 17th green. The combination of it all creates a top-notch social media center fans can enjoy all week long.

Pro-ams provide networking, promoting opportunities for players

While looking through this week’s International Crown schedule, my eye stopped on one event in particular.

Wednesday featured the McCormick Pro-Am at Caves Valley Golf Club, and all 32 players teed it up with a select group of VIPs, partners and sponsors for 18 holes of golf. I was a bit surprised to see a pro-am on the schedule since most events like this in pro golf don’t include them, but when I considered how important they are to the LPGA, I understood.

It’s no secret that relationships are one of the keys to good business, and no one understands that more than the LPGA Tour and its players. Not only have they made pro-am tournaments a delight for amateurs to participate in for decades, they have embraced them with a passion and dedication like nowhere else.

Players know that the time they spend with pro-am participants is crucial to the health of the Tour and, along with it, their overall wellbeing. Positive pro-am experiences – and the relationships forged through them – have led to sponsorships for players and the LPGA and even title sponsorships for full-field events.

The seeds for new tournaments and sponsorship deals are often planted during the course of 18-hole rounds, and what they produce can be magical.

“I think most of us know the importance of entertaining our pro-am group each week,” said Hall of Famer Karrie Webb, an LPGA member since 1996. “I think the LPGA is based on our performances in pro-ams. The customer satisfaction from companies that we hear about from pro-ams is the reason why they either continue to sponsor our events or how we gain new sponsors. A lot of sponsors have come from pro-am experiences.”

So, it makes sense that the tournament chose to host one this week, and the players did their parts to make the most of the experience for everyone involved.

“We really wanted to be able to offer our ambassador sponsors something special,” International Crown Tournament Director Rich Thomas said. “With only 32 players in the field, we were able to offer them special inside-the-ropes treatment to play with our professionals. A lot of our partners have come from other countries, and it’s a big deal for them to be able to partner up with those players.

“It’s an opportunity for us to provide a unique and different side of a major sporting event.”

The beautiful thing about the Tour players is that they view pro-ams as opportunities, rather than obligations.

“Our players embrace it,” LPGA Chief Communications Officer Kraig Kann said. “Every player on our Tour knows they have a responsibility outside of four rounds of golf in a given week, and they understand that those rounds of golf come because of partnerships and corporate friendships. They all realize that, if not for the partners we have and the financial support they give to put an event like this on, they’re not competing Thursday through Sunday.”

The mentality of players going the extra mile to promote the Tour in addition to focusing on their own games dates back to the LPGA founders in 1950. The responsibility is one LPGA players accept freely.

“I don’t think anything gets handed to us, and I think most women know you’ve got to take that extra step to make it in the world,” Webb said. “We need to treat the companies that support us with the same respect they’re giving us by being a part of our Tour.”

Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist agrees.

“Without the pro-ams and the sponsors, we wouldn’t have tournaments,” Nordqvist said. “The last couple years, with the help of a lot of players, I think we’ve been able to get more tournaments for the LPGA. For us, it’s important to get more tournaments and get more opportunities to play.”

The thrill of playing with an LPGA Tour player is not lost on pro-am participants.

“It’s really exciting for us to be able to play with somebody of Karrie Webb’s caliber and to have this event at Caves Valley, which is my home course,” said Alan D. Wilson, chairman, president & CEO of McCormick. “We’re sponsoring the pro-am, and the way we decided to do it is to involve our women’s network inside McCormick and get a lot of our female golfers out here playing in the pro-am today. We support pro-ams at different venues, and we find it’s a great way to bring clients out and is always a good experience.

“The LPGA players especially are very friendly to amateur partners, and they understand the role sponsors have in the Tour.”

International players thrilled to be part of groundbreaking event - Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Observing the press conferences in the International Crown’s media center on Tuesday, a common theme became abundantly clear: the players, especially the international ones, are thrilled to be part of the inaugural event.

Years of waiting for this type of competition are over for players who don’t hail from the United States or Europe – who have had the Solheim Cup since 1992 – and they are over-the-moon excited about it.

“I am just so glad to be here,” said former world No. 1 Yani Tseng, who will represent Chinese Taipei. “I just feel so grateful and very honored to be representing my country. We don’t get to have it too much and golf is very lonely, but now we play as a team and I’m just so glad.”

Katherine Kirk has been waiting to represent Australia at the professional level since she joined the Tour in 2004, so this week is big for the two-time LPGA tournament winner.

“For us to be able to represent Australia and do it on this stage is super exciting,” said Kirk, who went 3-0 for the International Team at the 2008 Lexus Cup. “So far, it’s exceeded my expectations, and walking into the locker room yesterday, I felt like a little kid at Christmas. Everything is all about your country, and it makes you really proud.”

Not only is Kirk personally jazzed to be able to play in Owings Mills, Md., this week, but she is also happy for Hall of Famer Karrie Webb, a Tour member since 1996.

“I’m very happy for her, and it’s an honor to play on the same team as her, considering the career she’s had,” Kirk said of the 41-time LPGA tournament champ. “I know Minjee (Lee) and I have looked up to her and Lindsey (Wright) growing up, so to be able to play on the same team is pretty cool. It’s a unique opportunity for us, and I’m glad that it’s finally here.”

Players from the Republic of Korea have dominated the LPGA in recent years, but never had an avenue to display their prowess until the International Crown came along.

“Honestly, before I got here, I could not imagine how excited I was going to be, but today playing with all my teammates, I feel pretty excited about it,” said two-time LPGA winner So Yeon Ryu.

Former world No. 1 and seven-time LPGA winner Na Yeon Choi agreed.

“I think that we all really wished to play in the Solheim Cup,” Choi said. “We always watched it on TV and felt sad we couldn’t play in the tournament. But this year, we can play in the International Crown. This is a great opportunity.”

Event organizers are excited to see the tournament become a reality and to be able to provide a top-notch competition for so many international players. Tournament Director Rich Thomas has seen the Baltimore area come alive in recent months, in terms of interest for the event.

“Over the last two months, we’ve really seen a boom in interest from a corporate standpoint and from the general public and the fans,” Thomas said. “People are buying tickets, and the phones are ringing off the hook. We’re really going to see what this event has become in just a short period of time.”

Regardless of where they were born, teeing off on Thursday will be an emotional experience for all 32 players.

“I just hope I don’t cry on the first tee when I hear my country’s song,” Tseng said.

Neal Reid will be on-site all week at the International Crown writing behind-the-scenes articles for LPGA.com. The longtime LPGA media relations coordinator (1998-2004) and current freelance writer will provide daily insight into the inaugural event from Caves Valley Golf Club up and through the final match on Sunday. Follow him on Twitter @NealReid21.

Topics: Blog, Inside the Ropes

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