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Northern California Ought to be a Regular LPGA Tour Stop

Northern California Ought to be a Regular LPGA Tour Stop

April 25, 2014

WieThere’s no doubt the Northern California region is rich with big time golf events.

It’s home to the PGA Tour’s Frys.com Open and AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the Champions Tour’s Nature Valley First Tee Open at Pebble Beach and Poppy Hills and the Web.com Tour’s Stonebrae Classic in Hayward.

There’s also U.S. Opens at The Olympic Club and Pebble Beach, and a U.S. Women’s Open coming to CordeValle Golf Club in 2016.

So why not have a regular LPGA Tour stop in the region?

This weekend’s Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic at Lake Merced is the first LPGA event in NorCal since the 2010 CVS/pharmacy LPGA Challenge at Blackhawk Country Club in Danville.

And yes, the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic is here for now, but the current contract only runs through 2016. So what gives?

Among those pushing for a regular LPGA stop is Santa Cruz native Juli Inkster, who has somewhat taken on the role of LPGA ambassador to the region.

“I just hope we can build a foundation and keep it here for many years,” Inskter said. “I think the community will support it. It’s just all about building it, and making it better and better each year. You have all the amenities here. Now we just need to get fans out here and I think it’s going to be a success.”

One of the biggest challenges in having a regular stop, even for the PGA Tour, is finding a longtime sponsor.

But it looks like Swinging Skirts — a successful Taiwanese group whose goal is to grow women’s golf and the golf industry in Taiwan — is more than willing to help promote golf here, too (even ponying up a nice $1.8 million purse).

And that, in return, makes the players happy.

“I think with the Swinging Skirts and the organization, taking it from Taiwan to move it here couldn’t be more perfect,” said Pleasanton native Paula Creamer. “We always try as players to do the best we can to promote the game. But when you get these amazing people that want to take it from their home and bring it to another place, I can’t take my hat off more to them. They are truly trying to grow the game of golf in the States as much as Asia.”

Also not lost on the players is the tradition of golf in San Francisco.

There’s Johnny Miller, Ken Venturi and the late Jack Fleck’s improbable win over Ben Hogan in the 1955 U.S. Open, just to scratch the surface.

“This is an area where we need to be playing every year,” said world No. 3 Stacy Lewis. “There’s so much golf history — that’s why we need to be here. And having a lot of players grow up in this area adds to the tournament and brings more people out to watch.”

Along with Creamer and Inkster, Northern California natives playing in the Classic include Mina Harigae (Monterey), Christina Kim (San Jose) and Natalie Gulbis (Sacramento).

CreamerThere’s also just the City, which can drip with hip, as world No. 1 Inbee Park has discovered.

“I’ve never really been in downtown San Francisco before. It’s a really cool city,” Park said. “I got to come and look at Fisherman’s Wharf. Everywhere I go here I get to experience seafood.”

The Classic appears to be a perfect fit for fans too, even despite the occasional fog and sprinkles.

BART buses and shuttles, plus easy freeway access make it easy to get to the tournament. There also isn’t the stuffiness feel of a PGA Tour event.

The players really seem to be out there for simply the love of the game, and to promote it. Isn’t that the message that golf is so desperately trying to get through?

“I think it’s important that the LPGA gets out here and represents women’s golf,” Inskter said. “Because women’s golf in this area is growing rapidly, and I think it’s very important for young girls and boys to see girls and ladies and young women come here to play golf, so they can have role models.”

Yep, it all sounds great. But still, nothing is guaranteed after 2016. Lake Merced playing the role of host course isn’t even set in stone after this year’s tournament.

It’d be a shame if the Classic disappeared before we even really got to know it.

-Jerry Stewart

Author: Jerry Stewart

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