LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – If legalized gambling is going to boost interest in golf, the LPGA doesn’t want to be left behind.
Commissioner Mike Whan is positioning the tour to be ready to manage and benefit from real-time betting when it takes off.
He’s preparing to invest the tour in a shot-tracking system that would give the LPGA real-time data similar to what PGA Tour ShotLink offers. The system would be specifically designed to accommodate the intense new interest gambling could bring.
“Regardless what I think of legalized gambling, it’s here, and it’s only going to get more significant,” Whan told GolfChannel.com. “You can stick your head in the sand and act like it’s not going to happen, but you’re still going to have betting issues. So, wouldn’t you rather get control of it, make sure you educate your players, make sure you understand the audience and make sure the data disseminated is real, accurate and managed by people you trust?”
Whan knows legalized gambling is potentially a financial windfall.
A shot-tracking system and database would help the LPGA control the information used in a variety of prop bets unique to golf.
“If we can get our heads around this and be the ones who provide the quality, reliable data, we have a chance to bring a whole new audience to our tour, both in the states and around the world,” Whan said.
Notably, the LPGA has a foothold in what could be one of the more profitable corners of gambling in golf. Asia’s interest in the sport, where the women are more popular than the men, is intense. So is its appetite for sports betting.
“The largest percentage of sports betting comes from Asia,” Whan said.
Whan is looking for the tour to take a measured first step. He imagines beginning with a limited real-time betting window, where a shot-tracking database is focused on the final three or four holes of a tournament.
“The reality is we are three or four years from being able to jump into that,” he said.
Whan is devising the first stage of a realistic game plan.
“If we start by trying to create bet-able data with 144 balls in the air over a six-mile, 18-hole track, it’s going to take a long time and a lot of money,” Whan said. “But if we try to create bet-able data over the final three or four holes of every tournament, or for the final four groups, that’s something bite size, that can be done more quickly,” Whan said.
That’s a more manageable investment into this uncertain new world, he said.
“We need to wade into the pool to find out what the temperature is, as opposed to jumping in,” Whan said. “Nobody knows what percentage of sports betting is going to be on golf. If you are the PGA Tour and European Tour, you can say it’s going to be enough to invest. If you’re the LPGA, you have to ask how much of sports betting will be on golf and what percentage of that will be on women’s golf.”
Whan said he would like to see the LPGA’s focus begin on becoming the best three- or four-hole betting system in the game, and if that pays dividends …
“If we can figure it out for three holes, then we can figure it out for nine holes, and then 18 holes,” Whan said.
The PGA Tour and LPGA are among sports leagues aiming to benefit from an “integrity fee,” perhaps as much as 1 percent of the handle on all legal bets. There’s an enormous financial upside in that.
Whan is implementing “integrity” training for his players this year. The program will be designed to educate players on the dangers of gambling and to protect the integrity of competition from corrupting influences.
“Sports betting is coming, and you have to get your hands around it,” Whan said. “You have to decide if it’s just going to be something negative, or if it’s going to be positive as well.”