Change is the challenge. New rooms become comfortable once familiarity sets in, but doorways are difficult. Entrances and exits require courage, eyes adjusting slowly to new light. Five years ago, the LPGA was presented with a portal packed with potential that some approached reluctantly.
But in partnership with KPMG, NBC and the PGA of America, the oldest professional sports organization for women crossed that threshold. Now that all eyes have adjusted, even those who initially blinked see the new room as the place to be. Five years in, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is viewed as a bold step well worth the risk
On May 29, 2014, Stacy Lewis stood on the stage of Studio 8H at 30 Rockefeller Plaza in New York City, where since 1975 NBC’s Saturday Night Live has challenged the world to look at itself and laugh, often nudging it toward change. Flanked by executives from the LPGA, KPMG, the PGA and NBC/Golf Channel, Lewis was the face of the future.
There were grumbles, to be sure. There were naysayers who did not want to abandon the name “LPGA Championship,” which since 1955 was the tour’s flagship event. But Lewis is part of a generation that gets it that growth means leaving home for unfamiliar surroundings. Now, she looks back in pride, the KPMG Women’s PGA an unqualified success.
“Did it live up to my expectations?” says Lewis, who sports the KPMG logo and helped nudge it toward this venture. “Surpassed all expectations,” she says with a firm nod. “It was what we hoped for and far more.”
Among those initially opposed to the change was Karrie Webb, an LPGA and World Golf Hall of Fame member. Her eyes quickly adjusted.
“It was an opportunity we could not turn down,” Webb says now. “I was just upset we couldn’t find a compromise that would keep the LPGA name. But what KPMG and the PGA have done is make it the best major. It just feels grand.”
In venues alone, the KPMG Women’s PGA has moved the LPGA to fancier Zip Codes. This week, the fifth edition is at Hazeltine National in Chaska, Minn., site of two PGA Championships and a Ryder Cup as well as the U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Open twice each.
Previously, the championship was at Westchester Country Club, Sahalee, Olympia Fields and Kemper Lakes – all important stops for men’s events. Coming up are Aronimink, Congressional, Baltusrol and PGA Frisco – an impressive line-up impossible without this coalition.
“It’s really a unique collaboration between the LPGA, KPMG and the PGA of America to really elevate women on and off the golf course, to get them on network television, to showcase the best female athletes in the world in a way we feel they're deserving of,” says Suzy Whaley, the first female President of the PGA of America.
“We're happy to be in our fifth year,” Whaley says. “We're constantly striving to push the envelope and do more.”
And “more” is the operative word. The atmosphere of the KPMG is major, with all the familiar surroundings of the PGA Championship, an important commitment to gender equality. But beyond how the tournament feels is how it makes others feel.
The KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit is a landmark event that encourages and mentors young women on how to make it in a male-dominated corporate world being pushed to change by initiatives like this.
“The KPMG Women’s PGA has significantly surpassed the early expectations,” says LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan. “When [then-PGA CEO] Pete Bevacqua and I first started the dialogue, we thought we were dreaming so big. But after meeting Lynne Doughtie and John Veihmeyer at KPMG, they took our initial ideas to a whole new level.”
While early talks were about how to make a golf tournament better, Doughtie, the current KPMG U.S. Chairman and CEO, and Veihmeyer, then Global Chairman of KPMG International, had a bigger vision.
“At KPMG, we have a strong focus on the advancement, development and empowerment of women,” says Doughtie. “Our shared vision with the PGA of America, LPGA, and NBC/Golf Channel from the beginning was to elevate and inspire women on and off the golf course through the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.”
Doughtie saw an opportunity to not only promote women’s golf but also focus attention on women striving to be professionals in other areas.
“We were inspired by our relationship with Stacy Lewis,” Doughtie says. “We wanted to raise the bar for these world-class athletes on the LPGA Tour. We are doing that by securing major championship caliber courses in top markets, showcasing the competition to new audiences through network TV coverage, and raising the purse to be among the top in the game. “
While raising the prize money, KPMG also raised the stakes for women off the golf course.
“We’re really proud of the KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit,” says Doughtie. “The objective of the summit is to build a pipeline of women in business aspiring to advance to the C-suite. We are already seeing positive results and the feedback from the attendees from more than 85 of the world’s top brands is that this initiative has been a catalyst.”
This year’s KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit has Dr. Condoleezza Rice as the keynote speaker as well as soccer legend Mia Hamm, Whaley and top executives from Target, Bloomberg, and Bank of America.
Proceeds from the championship and summit fund the KPMG Future Leaders Program, a charitable initiative that gives top female high school seniors college scholarships, a leadership retreat at Stanford University, a mentoring relationship with a woman business leader and an introduction to golf.
“Last year, over 1.2 million people watched the KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit on-line,” Whan says. “The impact KPMG is having through this Leadership approach will be felt for decades.”
What some viewed as a risk in 2014 now seems like a no-brainer. The KPMG Women's PGA is having an impact measured well beyond numbers on a scorecard.
“We’re proud of what we’ve achieved in just five years together with our partners,” Doughtie says. “The players tell us they believe the KPMG Women’s PGA has become the best tournament on the LPGA Tour. At KPMG, both our investment in advancing, developing and empowering women in the marketplace and commitment to diversity and inclusion are embodied by what we’re doing through the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.”
Words that Lewis uttered five years ago on the stage of Saturday Night Live still resonate.
“I want to leave the tour in a better place,” she said. “I've done that slowly, whether it's hanging out with little kids or doing it on a smaller scale. But this is really doing it at a bigger scale. This is something that is going to change the tour. It's going to change women's golf.”
Five years in, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is even bigger than Lewis dreamed. It’s changing the world for women. The KPMG Women’s PGA opened the door to the future and the LPGA boldly walked on in.