It’s not a stretch to call Pittsford a hub of professional golf this summer.
The picturesque suburb of about 30,000 residents outside Rochester will be home to two major championships this summer, the first community ever to do that in the same year.
The PGA Championship will be contested at Oak Hill Country Club in August, but it’s ladies first as the Wegmans LPGA Championship gets started at 7:15 a.m. Thursday about six miles away at Locust Hill Country Club.
This is the fourth straight year Locust Hill is host to a major on the women’s tour. But a nagging question remains: Will it be the last?
Wegmans and the LPGA are operating on a one-year agreement for the grocery chain to serve as title sponsor. It’s a major cost burden to bear for any one company, even one as successful as Wegmans. The purse this week alone is $2.25 million, before considering all the other costs associated with putting on a golf tournament.
At the end of the 2012 tournament, there was serious doubt as to whether the tournament would continue, with Wegmans’ sponsorship agreement having expired. The new deal was announced in November, ensuring the long-standing relationship between the LPGA and Rochester continues for at least another year. Locust Hill has hosted an annual tour stop since 1977, with Wegmans as a sponsor since 1998.
The LPGA Championship is the tour’s second-longest running tournament, behind only the U.S. Women’s Open. But it was left without a title sponsor when McDonald’s walked away after the 2009 tournament. Wegmans took over from there, and for that, the tour should feel a debt of gratitude.
The LPGA should consider itself lucky to have a host city like Rochester, which supports its events better than most, if not all, U.S. cities.
Wegmans also does not need to sponsor a golf tournament for brand recognition.
So what does that mean going forward?
It means that the LPGA could share more of the cost for hosting its own championship, and that Wegmans could stay on as a sponsor, but not in a title role. It also means that support from the community – from both corporations and fans buying tickets – will be needed to keep the tournament afloat.
“I feel good about the future,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle last month. “I don’t have anything to announce. I can’t tell you it’s locked and loaded, but I feel like the relationship is strong between the two of us. Anyone who writes a story saying it’s over, they’re going to be ahead of themselves. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe I’ll be the one that’s surprised, but I feel good that we have a future in Rochester.”
Tournament co-director Bill Strassburg sang a similar tune to the paper.
“We are more optimistic today than we have been in the past coming into our tournament that we might be able to work something out for beyond this year,” Strassburg said. “There is no deal done at this moment, but Mike Whan and I talk regularly and we are trying to figure out a way to be able to extend the tournament in Rochester.”
That’s welcome news for the 144 players who will tee it up Thursday in the second major of the LPGA season.
“I wouldn’t even want to think about it,” 2010 winner Cristie Kerr said Tuesday when asked about the possibility of the relationship between Wegmans and the tournament ending. “The LPGA Championship has got such great history. The tournament here … has had such great history as well. So I don’t really know what would happen in the future. I try not to think about that because my job is to play golf and perform and try to help our tour as best as I can and in my own way, but it would be a shame.”
The LPGA has added a fifth major this season, with the Evian Masters joining the LPGA Championship, U.S. Women’s Open, Women’s British Open and Kraft Nabisco Championship.
“I think that our landscape is so different from the men’s tour because we need our sponsors to keep going,” Kerr said. “We need the Evians of the world, we need the Wegmans of the world to really lift our tour up, and they’ve done a very good job at that.”
The top-10 players in the Rolex women’s world rankings, including No. 1 Inbee Park, No. 2 Stacy Lewis and No. 7 Shanshan Feng of China, the defending champion, highlight the field.
Lewis, 28, is the top American player in the world and won the 2012 Rolex Player of the Year. She has won one major – the 2011 Kraft Nabisco – but has fallen short in eight straight since then.
“I feel like I’ve had chances, and I’ve been in contention, so it doesn’t weigh on me that much,” she said Tuesday. “I feel like my game is made for majors and it’s only a matter of time.”
Some highlights from Monday on “Golf’s Longest Day,” otherwise known as sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, which will be held next week at Merion outside Philadelphia.
Justin Regier, son of Sabres General Manager Darcy Regier, finished at 5-over 146 (74-72) in the qualifier at Century Country Club and Old Oaks Country Club in Purchase, N.Y. Regier, playing out of Cary, N.C., finished eight shots out of the top four, who advanced, in a tie for 32nd in a field of 81.
One of those who did advance out of Purchase was amateur Gavin Hall, who finished tied for second in the 2010 Porter Cup as a 15-year-old. Hall, who enrolled at and will play golf for the University of Texas in the fall, birdied his final four holes to shoot 4-under 137 (70-67).
The 18-year-old will be in the Porter Cup field in July, as will Max Homa, who qualified at the Newport Beach, Calif., sectional. Homa shot 5-under 138 (66-72) at Newport Beach Country Club and Big Canyon Country Club. He’s one of the hottest golfers in the country, with an NCAA individual championship and a Pac-12 championship playing for California.
Kenmore’s Peter Creighton shot 4-over 148 (72-76) at the qualifier in Bradenton, Fla. He finished 11 shots out of the top three, who advanced.
The local foursome of Todd Martin, Laura Smith, Douglas Buhlman and Ron Bongi from Premier Consulting Associates in Amherst and Nova Healthcare in Amherst recently took first place in the National Kidney Foundation’s Cadillac Golf Classic held at Park Country Club in Williamsville.
With the win, the foursome qualified for one heck of a prize: a trip to the national finals that will be held Jan. 17-19, 2014, in Pebble Beach, Calif. The tournament at Park was one of 40 held around the country as part of the National Kidney Foundation Cadillac Golf Classic series. The winning foursomes at each tournament win entry into the national final, which last year was played on the Spanish Bay, Del Monte and Pebble Beach courses. Second- and third-place finishing teams are also invited to compete, although the winning team also receives airline vouchers.
The tournaments are held in a scramble format, and each team must consist of four amateurs with a combined USGA handicap of 42.0 or more. Only one player in each group can have a handicap of 8.0 or less.
Another tournament will be held Monday at Irondequoit Country Club in Rochester. The cost for a foursome to enter is $1,000. To date, the Classic has raised more than $80 million for the National Kidney Foundation.
For more information, and a list of tournament sites, visit www.kidney.org, then click on events and NKF Cadillac Golf Classic.
This is the first column of the 2013 golf season. The News’ series of video tips with local PGA professionals will begin next week and run throughout the summer. All local golf news of note is welcome at the email address below.