LPGA's successful Meijer Classic in Grand Rapids kicks off banner year of golf in Michigan
The LPGA Tour took a pretty hefty leap of faith in committing to suburban Grand Rapids in 2014, marking the first major professional golf-tour stop in the state since the PGA Tour's Buick Open folded up shop in 2009.
And it's been quite the success, with record attendance of around 55,000 last year, and hoping to top it again when the world's best female golfers tee it up at Blythefield Country Club in Belmont from June 13-16.
The LPGA Tour has been so impressed with the Meijer LPGA Classic, it's brought two more tour stops to the state — the LPGA Volvik Championship in Ann Arbor which ran for three years, from 2016-18, and now the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, which hosts its inaugural tournament in Midland in July.
"The community is really responding to this event," said Cathy Cooper, executive director of the Meijer LPGA Classic.
"We've had great attendance. That first year we were at 40,000 and it just keeps growing. It was 55,000 last year, and that was probably more of a conservative count. Ticket sales are way ahead of last year already for this year's event. We have another great, strong field coming in. The only thing we can't control is the weather."
The Meijer LPGA Classic kicks off a big year for professional golf in Michigan — one of four major tour stops, with the PGA Tour's Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit later in June, then the LPGA's stop in Midland, and the Champions Tour's Ally Challenge in Grand Blanc in September.
Pro golfers in Grand Rapids have come to expect great crowds, and rowdy ones, too — among the loudest they encounter all year long.
"My peers and I, we all agree, it's one of the best tournaments for us to play because the community is supportive," said Mariah Stackhouse, a third-year pro who's played in the last two Meijer LPGA Classic tournaments, tying for 27th last year.
"All of that combines for a festive environment, and you don't always get that."
Stackhouse, 25, who's from Charlotte, N.C., and who was an All-American at Stanford, also is excited to see what's in store for Midland — which is providing a twist to the conventional golf tournaments. The format will be two-person teams.
Stackhouse is teaming with Cheyenne Woods, the niece of Tiger Woods, Stackhouse's golfing idol (well, right behind her father). Stackhouse, an active social-media user, was like the rest of us during Tiger's Masters victory — ecstatic.
When Tiger's on his game, the game of golf is at its best, she said.
"I think you're gonna see this summer that the golf courses are gonna be more packed, the public courses are gonna have more tee times," she said. "It's gonna bring that fun and excitement back to golf again.
"I definitely remember (growing up) Saturday and Sundays, crowding around the TV in the evenings to watch Tiger chase whatever championship.
"I give a lot of credit to him inspiring my desire to be great at golf."
Stackhouse still is looking for her first LPGA Tour victory; she had two top-10s last season, with a career-best tied for seventh at the Shoprite LPGA Cclassic. She's struggling a bit this year, making just two of eight cuts, but hopes to turn that around later this month in Grand Rapids, or next month in Midland alongside Woods' niece.
In the first five years, Meijer LPGA Classic has raised nearly $4 million for its main charity, Simply Give, which helps stock local food pantries.
The tournament is expanding its charity outreach this year, adding a third pro-am, this one, in a partnership with Ann Arbor's Eisenhower Center, pairing armed-service veterans with LPGA Tour professionals.
Michigan pro-tour stops in 2019
►June 27-30: Rocket Mortgage Classic, Detroit Golf Club
►Sept. 13-15: Ally Challenge, Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club, Grand Blanc
►June 13-16: Meijer LPGA Classic, Blythefield Country Club, Belmont
►July 17-20: Great Lakes Bay Invitational, Midland Country Club