North Jersey served as the stage for one of golf’s most prominent events for women during the weekend of May 12-15 and reaped what likely amounted to tens of millions of dollars in economic activity. The Upper Montclair Country Club in Clifton played host to the Cognizant Founders Cup with a $3 million purse that 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 to 1950, as well as the pioneers who followed. The 72-hole tournament has continued to grow in prestige, popularity and purse. That increased purse came via 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 being played in Phoenix. Tournament Director Scott Wood said as they were deciding where to move the event, organizers were drawn to the New York City television market, as well as proximity to partners and sponsors, such as Cognizant. Wood said moving the tournament to North Jersey was immediately embraced when it was pitched to Cognizant.
“Well you’re based out of Teaneck, New Jersey. The LPGA really doesn’t have a stronghold on northern New Jersey, the metropolitan New York City market,” Wood explained to NJBIZ. “And it was like a light bulb went off and everybody just said, ‘yes, let’s pursue that and let’s make that happen.’”
That tournament was held at Mountain Ridge Country Club in West Caldwell. While Wood said that the event was successful, organizers wanted to move it back to the spring. That short turnaround took Mountain Ridge out of play, which created an opportunity to go back to a longtime, LPGA partner venue, Upper Montclair, where the tour had not stopped since 2009.
“The LPGA is thrilled to return to Upper Montclair Country Club and make this historic venue the new home of the Cognizant Founders Cup,” said Wood. “After an amazing first year in northern N.J., where women’s golf was passionately embraced by fans and sponsors alike, we are excited to begin a new tradition and create memorable moments at UMCC.”
“We’re committed to creating equal opportunity and diversity, both in and out of the workplace,” said Gaurav Chand, chief marketing officer, Cognizant. “We invested in the Cognizant Founders Cup as part of that commitment with the goal of helping to build a better future for the next generation of female golfers. We’re pleased to continue that effort and look forward supporting the talented athletes of the LPGA in 2022 and beyond through our sponsorship.”
And after a few years of upheaval because of COVID and the change of locations, a multi-year agreement between the tournament and Upper Montclair guarantees a bit of continuity and the chance to build ties within the community. “For us to be able to have a three-year partnership with Upper Montclair, to really put a stronghold, really put our flag here in Northern New Jersey and the Metropolitan area, it’s just going to be a great partnership,” Wood said.
“The membership of Upper Montclair Country Club is truly excited to welcome the LPGA back and host the Cognizant Founders Cup,” said Charlie Dimpfl, the club’s 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 women professionals will find our golf course as challenging, yet as fair as their predecessors.”
The tournament also comes during a bit of a lull in professional golf in North Jersey and the New York metropolitan area. The Northern Trust, formerly the Barclays, rotated through New Jersey several times over the last few years, with stops at Liberty National in Jersey City in 2019 and 2021, and Ridgewood in 2018. But, that event, which generated an estimated economic impact of more than $30 million for the area, was relocated to Memphis, Tenn., and renamed with FedEx as the new title sponsor.
The 2022 PGA Championship was originally set to be held at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster but was moved following the events of Jan. 6, 2021. That would have been the first men’s major held in the Garden State since the 2016 PGA Championship at Baltusrol in Springfield, which generated approximately between $75 million and $100 million in economic activity. The Women’s PGA Championship will next be played at Baltusrol’s famed Lower Course in 2023, while the Men’s PGA Championship does not return there until 2029.
So, this past weekend offered a great opportunity for the LPGA to fill a bit of that void while expanding its own footprint in the Garden State.
“The players just embraced the move from Arizona to Northern New Jersey,” Wood said. “It already was building to be a marquee stop on our tour. But now, there’s so many factors in play that this is really going to be a can’t miss for all of our players.”
The LPGA also is no stranger to South Jersey. The Shop Rite Classic, held for the last three decades in Galloway, is another of the tour’s most prestigious tournaments with one of its strongest fields. That 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 dollars in economic activity for the region.
Wood did not want to make any estimates about the Cognizant Founder Cup’s economic impact because of the event’s relative infancy operating in the area. But he is very optimistic with what he’s seen so far.
“It’s been a great partnership with Upper Montclair and with the city of Clifton, and just everybody here has really embraced us,” Wood said. “We’re very thrilled with what is going to take place this week, the support we’ve had. Ticket sales are very strong.”
He added that he plans to work with local stakeholders to begin putting together economic activity reports as they move through this multi-year partnership. Wood said that many of the local chambers of commerce have also embraced the event.
“They see this as an event that they know their members can get on board with and really start to support. Because they know that we’re bringing several hundred players, caddies, staff members, media to the area,” Wood said. “And that’s going to be an uptick for them throughout this week as they go out and enjoy themselves in this beautiful area. There are so many great little pockets of restaurants and everything 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 marketing the event and establishing 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 the product on the course. The 144-player field included most of the tour’s top 100 players, such as World No.1 Jin Young Ko, who won the event in October, finishing 18-under par.
And if you needed any more Jersey flavor. The tournament also featured former Wayne Hills standout Marina Alex, who was returning home, fresh off an exciting win weeks ago at the Palos Verdes Championship where she held off Ko in the final round.
Wood was hopeful that the community would come out to support these athletes and to enjoy world-class golf, while celebrating the LPGA’s past, present and future at an iconic, historic New Jersey course.
“As I tell the world, we need storytellers for women’s golf,” Wood said.