Tim Erensen knows exactly how long it takes to drive from his home in Greenwich, Conn., to the Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club in Galloway Township.
“Under three hours,” he said.
Erensen, 39, is the executive director of the ShopRite LPGA Classic and the principal of Atlantic City Golf, the company that owns and operates the tournament. Erensen revived the tournament in 2010 after a three-year absence.
This year’s Classic will be held Friday to Sunday on the Bay Course at Seaview.
Q: Why does the LPGA work in markets such as Atlantic City?
A: I think it’s like a Triple-A baseball market. You’re the biggest event in town. You’re not competing against a variety of other professional sports. The LPGA right now has a really good product. Golf is growing globally and this young group of American talent that is now competitive on the LPGA Tour has really helped.
Q: How is your relationship with Galloway Township and the people who live around Seaview?
A: We don’t close the roads anymore. From our perspective, the relationship (with the town and neighbors) is great. The only complaint we heard about the event was closing the road down. We worked with the Galloway Township Police Department and came up with a plan where we didn’t have to close Route 9. It’s been a world-changing decision. A lot of people still don’t even know we don’t close the road. Traffic was bad in the past, but slowly people are realizing that’s not the case anymore. We’re going to slow you down in front of the resort, but we’re not going to detour you and make you drive all over the place.
Q: What is the impact of having so many foreign-born players on the LPGA Tour?
A: Big picture, it’s great for the game. Locally, it’s hard. As an American and as an American event, you want to (cheer) for fellow Americans. It’s hard to embrace people from other cultures that you don’t get to know as quickly as some of the American talent. But the more you get to know (the foreign-born players) the more you can embrace them. It doesn’t matter where they’re from. They’re all pretty good players and there are a lot of really good story lines on the LPGA Tour.
Q: When someone like Ai Miyazato of Japan wins here (as she did in 2010) does that open up marketing opportunities overseas for the Classic? How much do you work with companies and media in South Korea since so many of the tour’s best players come from that country?
A: We work with Korean media companies or Korean companies who want to specifically play with Korean players in our pro-am. We work with some of the casinos that want to entertain some of their high rollers — historically a large percentage of them are Korean or Asian. It’s a huge plug for them to come and play in a pro-am with one of the superstars from Korea or Ai Miyazato from Japan. It would be like one of us playing golf with Natalie Gulbis or one of the American superstars.
Q: How critical is the pro-am to the Classic’s success?
A: We couldn’t do the tournament without it. We have by far the largest pro-am on the LPGA Tour and one of the largest in all of professional golf. We have 928 people participate in our pro-am. They play three different courses over two days. It’s the backbone of our fundraising efforts. We have people come from all over the world. We have international people. ShopRite takes up 65 percent of our pro-am (slots). The majority of their guests are either store owners or operators (or) their food suppliers and vendors. The players embrace it. They know that’s how they gain fans. The biggest difference between the men’s tour and the ladies tour right now is how approachable the ladies are. They really go above and beyond the call of duty.
Q: How do you judge whether the tournament is a success?
A: The charitable efforts are one of the reasons everybody does this. We continue to move that needle. We raised $1.2 million for charity last year.
Q: Where does attendance fit in?
A: Ticket sales are a small part of our total revenue and business model. But they’re really the key to our success. The more people you see on the golf course the more valuable our sponsorships become. We need to get as many people as we can on the golf course. The LPGA is very affordable. Kids 18 and under get in free. We have a variety of free ticket programs. It’s easy to come out. The trick for us is that when people do come out they enjoy the experience and have lots to do and lots to be entertained by. That makes it easier for them to come back.
Q: What’s the biggest variable for the tournament’s success?
A: Weather is the biggest variable in any event. You can’t spend a lot of time thinking about it because it’s certainly out of our control. But besides weather you hope for a great leader board. But we have a great staff and a wonderful group of volunteers. For us, it’s getting people pointed in the right direction to make sure things go without a hitch.
Q: How big is your staff?
A: We’re a team of eight full-time people. Our office right now is 16 or 17 people. We’ll bring over 100 different companies, 100 different vendors to help with the operation of the event. We have nearly 1,000 volunteers. The numbers are pretty staggering when you begin to add them up.
Q: How has the tournament grown since 2010?
A: Our pro-am is 50 percent bigger. Our volunteer numbers are up 25 percent. We’re selling and distributing more tickets. Our sponsor count is up probably 20 percent. We feel that growth. It’s easy to measure at this point.
Q: What is the status of your deals with Seaview, ShopRite and the LPGA? I believe this is the fourth year of five-year contracts with each.
A: We haven’t started those (renewal) conversations. We’ve had some feedback. We know Wakefern (ShopRite’s parent company) is committed as ever to the LPGA. Everybody loves being at Seaview and Atlantic City. We’re not worried. We hope to start some (of the renewal) work at the event this year. We hope to make an announcement at the event next year for 2015 and beyond. Everything seems great and everybody is saying the right things. That’s one thing we’re not really worried about.
Q: What is your relationship with current LPGA management?
A: It’s great. We have an open dialogue. Everyone doesn’t always agree. Everybody’s not always on the same page. But at the end of the day everybody is doing this for the right reasons and pulling together.
Q: What is the biggest challenge the LPGA faces?
A: It’s the schedule. It’s getting new events. It’s a challenge to get domestic events. The majority of the opportunities that are coming to the LPGA are international opportunities. They need to juggle that fine balance of we’re a tour based in America and we need to play the majority of our events here. But they’d be foolish not to look at other opportunities. We live in a global society.
Q: Can the LPGA ever equal the PGA?
A: I don’t think you can compare it. The television deals are so different. The amount of time the men’s tour is on television and prime-time network television. It’s a not a fair comparison. But you look at the some of the numbers the LPGA is doing — the television growth, the increases in their social media efforts and number of sponsors. They’re doing a nice job and building the foundation of the tour. It’s going to take the Tiger Woods of the LPGA Tour to come along and move the needle. Are they going to catch the PGA Tour? I don’t think so. Can they do better than they are? I think so. Are they doing better than they were? No question.
Q: The Classic has been televised on ESPN2 and the local television in the past. The tournament — as are nearly all LPGA events — is currently on The Golf Channel. Is that good for the Classic?
A: The LPGA historically has been all over the map. Now you know you can find the LPGA on The Golf Channel. The majority of the telecasts are now live. We’ll have nine and a half hours of live coverage over our three days. That’s up from three and a half hours from 2010. That’s not asking for more coverage or paying for more coverage. It’s because people are watching.
Q: What does being on national television mean to the Classic?
A: Locally it’s the biggest difference maker. It shows the bigness of the event. It gives us a chance to showcase the whole community and region. It puts Atlantic City on the map for a few days.
Q: What does it mean to the Classic to have Stacy Lewis — America’s No. 1 player — as the defending champion?
A: Her story is so good (overcoming scoliosis) you can’t tell it enough. Fighting scoliosis, wearing a back brace every day, taking it off only to practice golf. All boats have risen because of Stacy’s success. She deserves it. We’d love to see it continue. Two of the new events on tour (this year) have title sponsors who have endorsement deals with Stacy.
Q: How good a golfer are you?
A: Not good enough. I still love the game and love to play. I don’t have much time to practice, but I love being around it.
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