Midland — The LPGA was absent from Michigan for a few years, but it appears the top women’s golf tour in the world is glad to be back.
With tournaments already in Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor, the LPGA and Dow Chemical announced on Thursday the creation of the Great Lakes Bay Invitational, a unique team event that will be played July 17-20, 2019 at Midland Country Club.
The Detroit News reported Monday that the new event was coming to Midland.
“For me, personally being from Michigan, it is terrific,” said Jon Podany, chief commercial officer for the LPGA. “Just the enthusiasm and everything that’s been done so far. We were at four different locations today. Flying in last night someone saw the LPGA (logo) on my shirt and they were really excited about it, had heard a little bit about it.
“You want to go where people embrace you and we really feel like this region is already embracing the LPGA.”
The Tour has flourished in other parts of the state as the Meijer Classic is entering its fourth year in Grand Rapids while the Volvik Championship is set to play year three of its event later this month in Ann Arbor.
But those are standard stroke-play events. What the folks at Dow wanted was something a little different and the LPGA was happy to oblige as the tournament will be made up of 72 two-player teams, much like the Zurich Classic on the PGA Tour.
“Dow really pushed to do something unique,” Podany said. “We’re familiar with the Solheim Cup and so forth and we’ve seen what happened with the Zurich Classic on the PGA Tour. The team aspect brings out another dynamic. There’s a lot of energy between the two (players), the way they celebrate. I think it will be an exciting format for this region.”
There’s no doubt it was popular among the players.
Before the start of the press conference, a video was shown featuring players reacting to news of the event and it was given a ringing endorsement from the likes of Paula Creamer and Morgan Pressel.
On Thursday, the LPGA had players spread throughout the region. Jenny Shin conducted a youth clinic at Midland Country Club while Hall of Famer Juli Inkster was at Dow headquarters and Brittany Lincicome was at Saginaw Country Club. Fellow Tour pros Katherine Kirk (Bay City) and Angel Yin (Mt. Pleasant) were also conducting clinics to promote the event.
Each player talked about their enthusiasm for playing a team format.
“I’m really excited for this event,” Shin said. “It’s serious but at the same time it can be a little more fun. You get to interact with people. It’s not all about competition, it’s more like two vs. two, which is unheard of on this tour.”
Added Lincicome, a major champion and six-time member of the Solheim Cup team, “We're super-excited to bring this event to the LPGA. It's gonna be super-fun and we can't wait.”
The tournament is the latest in what is becoming a professional golf boom in Michigan.
After the Buick Open at Warwick Hills in Grand Blanc ended as regular stop on the PGA Tour in 2009, the state was left without an event on any of the three major tours – the PGA, the LPGA and the Champions Tour.
However, the LPGA returned in 2014 with the Meijer Classic at Blythefield CC near Grand Rapids and the Volvik Championship at Travis Pointe in Ann Arbor was next in 2016. The Champions Tour will play the inaugural Ally Challenge this September at Warwick Hills and the PGA Tour will return with a new event slated for 2019 at Detroit Golf Club.
“There’s just a lot of golf interested fans in the state of Michigan,” Podany said. “If you look at per capita, the number of people who play golf in Michigan, it ranks among the top five in the country on per capita basis. Even though it’s a northern climate where you can’t play year-round there’s a lot of golf-interested fans and a lot of sports-interested fans. Summers in Michigan it stays light late and it’s a great environment to have a tournament.”
The event in Midland should have some staying power as the initial agreement between Dow and the LGPA is for five years. It’s also been in the works for nearly two years as discussions between Dow and the Tour started to get serious about 16 months ago, Podany said.
Dow joined the LPGA as a corporate sponsor in January and it believes the tournament will help not only the company’s profile, but be a boon to the Bay Area region.
“Michigan is a comeback story right now,” Dow CEO Jim Fitterling said. “Everybody talks about Detroit, but this region is a comeback story as well. This is a hidden gem that people don’t know about and we want to make sure they have an opportunity to see that.
“It is the Great Lakes Bay Invitational on purpose. It’s about the entire region and building community in the entire region.”