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Partnership between PGA Tour and LPGA Tour rife with possibilities

The Innisbrook Resort Copperhead Course used to host a regular men's and women's event, the JCPenny Classic. With a new agreement between the PGA Tour and the LPGA Tour, could Innisbrook host another such event? Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- It was probably just a coincidence that the PGA Tour announced a collaborative agreement with the LPGA Tour just a few days before the annual stop at Innisbrook.

Then again, maybe it wasn't.

Back in the day, the site of this week's Valspar Championship was home to a team event consisting of PGA and LPGA pros known as the JCPenney Classic.

The event dated to 1977 but was played on the Copperhead course from 1990 through 1999, won by John Daly and Laura Davies in its last year before sponsorship issues ended the run and led to a regular event. Tiger Woods even played it one year, just a few months after turning pro.

As part of the business arrangement the PGA Tour announced with the LPGA, it also said it would work to get the men and women back together.

"I played in the JCPenney and thought it was a great tournament," said Stewart Cink, one of six players in the Valspar field who played the old mixed-team event at Innisbrook. "I played it for five years and we had a nice time. I played with Emilee Klein and we played good and we played poorly, but we had fun. It just think it's kind of a cool showcase. If you get the right environment, why not?"

The discussion leads to numerous ways such an event can be conducted. For most of the JCPenney's run, it was contested over four days, with a modified alternate shot. Both players would hit a tee shot and a second shot from the other player's ball, then alternate until a putt was holed.

But a team event could be best ball or a scramble. Or men and women could simply be incorporated into the same event, each playing separate stroke-play events. Trying to play separate stroke-play events while also staging a team event might be problematic, but it could be explored. Maybe there's a way to add up aggregate scores for a team total?

Justin Leonard said he played a practice round earlier this week with David Toms, and the two JCPenney alums discussed it.

"It was fun," Leonard said. "It was way harder for the [LPGA players] because it was such a big purse in comparison to what they were accustomed to. For us it was just another week. It was fun, it was in the fall. You just come to stay in touch with the game and it was fun.

"But some of those [LPGA players] were just grinding. Whether I play or not, I'd certainly be in favor it of coming back. I think it was good. Our tours are so separate, it's nice to bring the game together -- bring some of our fans to see what they can do and some of their fans to see what we can do. I think it can only help both tours."

And that was the purpose of the relationship, to explore ways the tours can do things together and help each other. Television contract negotiations are expected to be a big part of that. It makes no sense for the two entities to be competing for golf viewers so often.

But staging events together is clearly a step beyond that, and doesn't have to be a team tournament. Dottie Pepper, ESPN and CBS golf analyst (who won the JCPenney with Dan Forsman in 1992), suggested concurrent events at the same venue. Innisbrook, for example, has four courses on site.

"A place like PGA National [home of the Honda Classic] would be a terrific candidate, two or more quality courses," she said. "Or maybe start an LPGA event on Wednesday with the focus on their finish on Saturday. Or alternate courses starting on the same day. Another option would be two smaller fields, make a cut to 50 or 60 and then alternate PGA/LPGA groupings for the final 36.

"I'd love to see a team event -- and by the way, the team concept is what is missing from the Olympics."

The Olympics will have separate men's and women's stroke-play events, but finding a way to have countries play a mixed-team event might be another format to explore.

As it relates to the PGA Tour, finding the time on the schedule could prove to be an issue. When the JCPenney was played, the golf season ended in early November and the last two months of the year were dotted with offseason, fun tournaments that didn't count. Now that window is very narrow.

Even PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem seemed intrigued at the various ways such a tournament could be staged.

"If we did have an opportunity to do something together, what would be the coolest format we could use?" he said. "Because if the opportunity came up, we would want to take full advantage of it. ... There's different ways to do it. You could come up with a whole new format. You could do something that's more traditional like a better-ball or a team competition. But just showing off the comparative skills, I think, would be something that could be well received."

Can such an event exist during the regular season? If they are separate tournaments, it can still count for both tours, with full world ranking points. Getting the equipment and apparel companies on board could help, too. Perhaps a Nike team consisting of Rory McIlroy and Michelle Wie?

"I played it with Vicki Goetze and had a ball playing it," Steve Stricker said. "I'd love to see it again, have the two tours reunited again. There's a lot of female players the guys look up to and vice versa. To do something where you are playing alternate shot or best ball like we do at the Shark Shootout, that makes it player friendly, not so much pressure on one player."

One thing is certain, there are numerous possibilities.