LPGA Tour returns to North Jersey, bringing in millions in spend

The Founders Cup began in 2011 to honor the 13 founding members of the LPGA, which dates back to 1950, as well as the pioneers who came after. The 72-hole tournament has steadily grown in prestige, popularity, and scholarship.

North Jersey served as the stage for one of the biggest women’s golf events over the weekend of May 12-15 and garnered what likely amounted to tens of millions of dollars in economic activity. . Clifton’s Upper Montclair Country Club hosted the Cognizant Founders Cup with a $3 million purse which is the largest of any LPGA Tour event outside of the majors and the CME Group Tour Championship.

The Founders Cup began in 2011 to honor the 13 founding members of the LPGA, which dates back to 1950, as well as the pioneers who came after. The 72-hole tournament has steadily grown in prestige, popularity, and scholarship. This increased scholarship came from Teaneck-based Cognizant, one of the world’s leading professional services firms, which doubled the prize money when it took over as title sponsor in 2021.

The event was moved to North Jersey last October after a decade of playing in Phoenix. Tournament director Scott Wood said when deciding where to move the event, organizers were drawn to New York’s television market, as well as the proximity of partners and sponsors, such as Cognizant. Wood said moving the tournament to North Jersey was immediately accepted when presented to Cognizant.

“Well, you’re based in Teaneck, New Jersey. The LPGA really doesn’t have a stronghold in northern New Jersey, the metropolitan New York City market,” Wood told NJBIZ. It was like a light bulb went out and everyone just said, ‘Yeah, let’s go after this and make this happen.

This tournament was held at the Mountain Ridge Country Club in West Caldwell. While Wood said the event was a success, organizers wanted to reschedule it until the spring. The short turnaround knocked Mountain Ridge out of the game, creating an opportunity to return to a longtime LPGA partner venue, Upper Montclair, where the tour hadn’t stopped since 2009.

Cognizant Founders Cup Golf Ball

“It’s been a great partnership with Upper Montclair and with the town of Clifton, and everyone here has really embraced us,” said tournament director Scott Wood.

“The LPGA is thrilled to return to Upper Montclair Country Club and make this historic venue the new home of the Cognizant Founders Cup,” Wood said. “After an incredible first year in Northern New Jersey, where women’s golf has been passionately embraced by fans and sponsors, we are thrilled to start a new tradition and create memorable moments at UMCC.”

“We are committed to creating equal opportunity and diversity, both in and out of the workplace,” said Gaurav Chand, Chief Marketing Officer of Cognizant. “We have invested in the Cognizant Founders Cup as part of this commitment to help build a better future for the next generation of female golfers. We are thrilled to continue this effort and look forward to supporting the talented LPGA athletes in 2022 and beyond through our sponsorship.

And after a few years of upheaval due to COVID and changing venues, a multi-year deal between the tournament and Upper Montclair guarantees some continuity and the opportunity to bond within the community. “For us to have a three-year partnership with Upper Montclair, to really put a stronghold, to really put our flag here in northern New Jersey and the metro area, it’s just going to be a great partnership,” Wood said.

“The members of Upper Montclair Country Club are truly thrilled to be hosting the LPGA again and hosting the Cognizant Founders Cup,” said Charlie Dimpfl, club general manager and chief operating officer. “There is no greater supporter of women’s golf and the professional game than UMCC, and we expect today’s world-class professionals to find our golf course as challenging, but also just as their predecessors.”

The tournament also comes during a small lull in professional golf in North Jersey and the New York metro area. The Northern Trust, formerly Barclays, has passed through New Jersey several times in recent years, with stops at Liberty National in Jersey City in 2019 and 2021, and Ridgewood in 2018. But this event, which generated an economic impact estimated at over $30 million for the region, moved to Memphis, Tennessee, and rebranded with FedEx as the new title sponsor.

The 2022 PGA Championship was originally scheduled to be held at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, but was moved following the events of January 6, 2021. This would have been the first major men’s tournament held in the Garden State since the 2016 PGA Championship in Baltusrol . in Springfield, which generated approximately $75 million to $100 million in economic activity. The Women’s PGA Championship will next be played at the famous Baltusrol Lower Course in 2023, while the Men’s PGA Championship won’t return there until 2029.

So last weekend presented a great opportunity for the LPGA to fill a bit of that void while expanding its own footprint in the Garden State.

“The players have just accepted the move from Arizona to northern New Jersey,” Wood said. “It was already becoming a highlight of our tour. But now there are so many factors at play that it will truly be a must-have for all of our players.

The LPGA is no stranger to South Jersey either. The Shop Rite Classic, held for three decades in Galloway, is another of the tour’s most prestigious tournaments with one of its best champions. This event returns to its traditional June dates, taking place June 6-12 at the Bay Course at Seaview. Annually, it creates more than $19 million in economic activity for the region.

Wood declined to make estimates on the economic impact of the Cognizant Founder Cup due to the relatively young nature of the event in the region. But he is very optimistic with what he has seen so far.

“It’s been a great partnership with Upper Montclair and with the town of Clifton, and everyone here has really embraced us,” Wood said. “We’re excited about what’s going to happen this week, the support we’ve had. Ticket sales are very strong.

He added that he plans to work with local stakeholders to begin preparing economic activity reports as they move forward in this multi-year partnership. Wood said many local chambers of commerce have also embraced the event.

“They see this as an event they know their members can attend and really start supporting. Because they know we bring several hundred players, caddies, staff, media to the area,” Wood said. “And that’s going to be an uptick for them throughout this week as they get out and have fun in this beautiful area. There are so many great little pockets of restaurants and all around here.”

He also pointed out that the course’s location, nestled between the Garden State Parkway and Route 3, is ideal as they begin to market the event and establish its foundation.

“We’re on full display for thousands and thousands every week,” Wood said.

Ultimately, the best way to promote the event is through on-course product. The field of 144 players included most of the top 100 players on the tour, such as world No. 1 Jin Young Ko, who won the event in October, finishing 18 under par.

What if you needed more Jersey flavor. The tournament also featured former Wayne Hills star Marina Alex returning home fresh from a thrilling victory a few weeks ago at the Palos Verdes Championship where she held off Ko in the final round.

Wood hoped the community would support these athletes and enjoy world-class golf, while celebrating the past, present and future of the LPGA on an iconic and historic New Jersey course.

“As I say to the world, we need storytellers for women’s golf,” Wood said.

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