LPGA confident of long stay in Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor — As professional golf continues its resurgence in the state of Michigan, it appears the Volvik Championship at Travis Pointe Country Club will continue to be part of that revival.
Whether Volvik returns as the title sponsor, however, is the bigger question as the event is set to begin Thursday morning with a field that includes five of the top 10 golfers in the world competing for a $1.3 million purse.
“If I could hand you guys a headline, I would hand you, ‘LPGA commissioner confident in Ann Arbor long term,'” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said on Wednesday. “I feel comfortable about our plans here long term. I don’t have anything to announce this week and we're not telling you about what our X number of years is, but I think the LPGA and Ann Arbor probably have a long (future) together, we just have some work to do in the months that follow this event.”
This is the third of a three-year agreement between the tournament and Volvik for the golf ball manufacturer be to be the title sponsor. Even if that agreement is not extended, Volvik intends to be involved with the tournament and the LPGA on some level.
“It's been our third year and we're more excited every year and we look forward to continuing our relationship with the tournament and with the LPGA as well,” Volvik USA President Don Shin said. “As of now, we just don't have a firm answer to give you, but we'll be involved in some capacity, whether it's a title, co-title, or a presenting, we would definitely like to be involved with this tournament, for sure.”
By all accounts, the tournament has been a success. It has seen a steady increase in attendance each year — 35,000 spectators are expected this week — more than 500 volunteers are involved and there are 95 corporate partners.
It has added up to an event organizers believe was built for the long haul.
“The vision for this tournament was to do something great for the community, not only Ann Arbor but southeast Michigan, the whole state of Michigan,” tournament director Keith Karbo said. “I think we've accomplished that. … We've really tried to embrace the community and we figured if we focused inward on being the best that we could be here, that good things would happen. And I think that what has happened is we've done the best that we can do and I think we're going to see a great crowd this week.”
The tournament is one of two LPGA tour stops in the state — the Meijer Classic has been playing at Blythefield CC near Grand Rapids since 2014 — but it’s just the beginning of pro golf taking over the state.
When the Buick Open last played on the PGA Tour in 2009 at Warwick Hills in Grand Blanc, Michigan was left without a regular stop on any of three major tours. But the LPGA returned with the Meijer Classic in 2014 followed by the Volvik in 2016. The Champions Tour begins play with the Ally Challenge at Warwick Hills in September while the Detroit Golf Club is expected to begin hosting a PGA Tour event next summer. This week’s Senior PGA Championship is also held every other year at The Golf Club of Harbor Shores in Benton Harbor.
Add in the long-standing LGPA event in Sylvania, Ohio, and the tour’s announcement of next year’s Great Lakes Bay Invitational in Midland and professional golf is booming in the region with the LPGA at the center.
“I would just tell you, in the world of the LPGA, we talk about the LPGA fan base, there's nowhere better than the Midwest and there's nowhere better than that than in Michigan,” Whan said. “So I feel confident we're going to see the same volunteers in two or three different markets. We're going to see a lot of the fans in the same markets, and I can't see that as a bad thing, especially because we took a lot of years where we weren't coming to Michigan at all, so I feel like we have some catching up to do anyway.”
Karbo said officials at Travis Pointe continue to be supportive and intend to continue as the tournament host.
Determining where the event might turn for a title sponsor if Volvik doesn’t return will take some time. Whan and Karbo said several companies have officials in town this week but nothing would be official until the tour announces next season’s schedule in November.
One possibility is C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan. The Congenital Heart Center hosted a pro-am on Monday and early this month Dr. John Charpie, professor and director of pediatric cardiology, said he envisioned the hospital’s involvement creating something similar to the St. Jude Classic on the PGA Tour.
Whatever name is attached, the LGPA remains confident it will be playing next year in Ann Arbor.
“If I was concerned about us coming back, I would have a different headline for you,” Whan said. “But when you get 95 players from the marketplace and the money involved that we've been able to generate locally, whether you talk about a partner like Volvik that I know will be involved in this tournament at any number of various levels and the number of people we're talking to that want to take on a real significant role here, I think all the ingredients are here for a long-term solution.”
LPGA Volvik Championship
Where: Travis Pointe Country Club, Ann Arbor
TV: 7-9 p.m. Thursday-Friday, Golf Channel (tape delay); 3-6 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, Golf Channel
Details: Yardage: 6,734. Par: 72. Purse: $1.3 million. Winner’s share: $195,000.
Defending champion: Shanshan Feng.
Notes: Ariya Jutanugarn is the only player who started and made the cut in all 12 events on the LPGA Tour schedule this year. Brooke Henderson is taking this week off. Jutanugarn is in the field at the Volvik Championship. … Inbee Park went home to South Korea and won the Doosnam Match Play Championship on the Korean LPGA Tour last week. … Jutanugarn and Henderson are the only two players to have won on the LPGA Tour in each of the last three seasons. … Through 12 events this year, the LPGA Tour does not have a multiple winner. It’s the second straight year the LPGA has gone this deep into the season with different winners each week. … The tournament is in its third year. It is the first of two LPGA events in Michigan in a span of four weeks. The U.S. Women’s Open, the second major of the LPGA Tour, is next week at Shoal Creek in Alabama.