The Symetra Tour is the official qualifying tour of the LPGA Tour and enters its 39th competitive season in 2019. With the support of its umbrella partner Symetra, the Tour’s mission is to prepare the world’s best young women professional golfers for a successful career on the LPGA Tour. Since Symetra’s inaugural sponsorship year in 2012, the Symetra Tour has grown from 16 tournaments and $1.7 million in prize money to $4 million in prize money awarded over the course of 24 tournaments.
The Symetra Tour is known as “the Road to the LPGA” and since 1999, it has been designated as the LPGA’s official developmental tour. The LPGA acquired the Symetra Tour in July 2007. A total of 147 women have graduated from the Symetra Tour to the LPGA since 1999.
Sports Destination Management: The Symetra Tour has been very successful. What has the growth been like?
Mike Nichols: I came over to the Symetra Tour seven years ago after having been with the LPGA. In 2013, the Symetra Tour had 15 tournaments and was paying about $1.6 million in prize money. Today, we have 24 tournaments and $4 million in prize money. In the last five years in particular, we’ve seen a lot of interest and awareness of the tour.
SDM: Is that a reflection of the growth of women’s golf in general?
Nichols: Yes, it is. It’s also a tournament that more cities can host. Not every community can host a PGA TOUR event or an LPGA Tour event; that is a multi-million-dollar annual event. The Symetra Tour, though, does provide a great opportunity to see what a pro golf tournament is like. At the same time, it is a tour where the players are very accessible, and where you’re actually up-close and able to see them.
SDM: Do you conduct clinics or meet-and-greets for kids at the tour events?
Nichols: We host a junior clinic or two at almost every tournament. Sometimes, we’ll do a public clinic, or we’ll do something with a local boys’ and girls’ club or the YMCA. Something we’ve realized is that every time we do that, a player touches a club for the first time.
SDM: Do the kids get a charge out of seeing the players?
Nichols: They do – but so do the players. They might make a bogey and look back and there are these girls smiling and waving at them and it’s a reality check. They see themselves 10 or 12 years ago and they remember what it was like.
SDM: What do you look for when you’re seeking out potential host communities?
Nichols: We’re a little different from many of the sports events out there. Because we’re a pro tournament, we need to find a community that has a corporate sponsor able to underwrite the purse of the event. We need to speak to chamber of commerce, country club, economic development officials – anyone who might be able to find someone to underwrite that event.
SDM: That would be a high-visibility sponsorship, though.
Nichols: Exactly; for us, it’s giving someone a way to put their name on the tour. And it’s about empowering the next generation of the LPGA so it’s a big deal. When we come to town, we’ll have the players that you’re going to be seeing on the LPGA Tour next year. Look at it this way: If you go to Triple-A baseball game, you’re doing the family thing, but you’re also kind of hoping one of the players you’re watching play will be in the Majors one day. With the Symetra Tour, 10 to 15 of our players will be on the LPGA Tour.
SDM: What’s the economic impact of the tour?
Nichols: It’s half a million to one million dollars. That’s based on data that the CVBs and sports commissions have given back to us after our tournament is over.
SDM: So you obviously do a lot of work with the DMOs.
Nichols: We’re based in Daytona Beach so we don’t have intel on which companies we should reach out to as the likely suspects for sponsorship. We don’t have any idea who the big bank or hospital is in a really competitive market.
SDM: What is the scale of event you put on?
Nichols: When we roll into town, we have 10 to 15 staffers as well as officials and people with various other responsibilities relating to the tour. It’s a large undertaking.
SDM: Are you looking to grow the number of events you’re putting on?
Nichols: We’re always looking. At the moment, we have 24 events, which is really the sweet spot. We’d like to stay in the twenties. We’re always in growth mode, though, even if that means keeping the same number of events. We also enjoy establishing relationships with the different cities who want to host. If you’re bidding on a championship in a lot of other sports, only one city is going to win. With us, there are other events.
SDM: Do you think the girls who come to watch the Symetra Tour will be inspired to continue in the sport?
Nichols: That’s a goal. The LPGA Girls Golf program has been hugely effective. We’ll hit the 100,000 mark this year. Right now, the fastest-growing segment of golf is girls under the age of 18.