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State golf notes: Meijer Classic cancellation a mysterious move; GAM ready to resume tournaments

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

The state has lost its two LPGA Tour tournaments for 2020.

One, the Great Lakes Bay Invitational in Midland, wasn't much of a surprise in golf circles. But the other, the Meijer Classic outside Grand Rapids, was a bit of a shocker.

The Meijer is considered one of the players' favorite regular-season stops, buoyed by its big crowds. That's why the LPGA Tour originally seemed insistent on saving it in 2020, moving it from its original place on the schedule in mid-June to a spot in early October.

LPGA star Lexi Thompson

The LPGA Tour made that call in late April. But then, just three weeks later, the tournament was canceled, with no real explanation for the about-face.

“We were all looking forward to the sense of community this tournament offers, but this year’s event could not provide the quality of experience and, most importantly, safety, that our golfers, volunteers, spectators and staff have come to expect from us,” tournament executive director Cathy Cooper said in a statement on May 20. “This was a difficult decision, but we are excited to bring the LPGA’s best tournament for families and foodies back to West Michigan next year bigger than ever before.”

And that was it.

The News inquired about a follow-up interview with Cooper, but was shot down, having been told the press release accounted for the only statement tournament officials would be making.

COVID-19 has shut down the major professional golf tours since mid-March. The LPGA Tour announced plans to restart in July in Midland, but that's not happening now. Instead, they plan to start the following week outside Toledo. The Champions Tour still plans to restart in Michigan, with the Ally Challenge in Grand Blanc, also taking place in late July/early August. The PGA Tour plans to kick things off in two weeks, without fans for at least the first four tournaments, including Detroit's Rocket Mortgage Classic on July 4th weekend.

More: Phil Mickelson ready to make 'The Match' an annual event

The LPGA Tour and Champions Tour are in much dicier financial situations than the PGA Tour, which has a massive TV contract and can survive without ticket sales. The other tours need the fans.

Perhaps that was the big reason behind the Meijer's cancellation. In recent years, it has drawn some 50,000 fans, earning it "Best Fan Experience" on the LPGA Tour. If held in June or July, there's a good chance it would've had to have taken place without fans — even in west Michigan, which hasn't been hit nearly as devastatingly by COVID-19 as those in Metro Detroit — but October? No crystal ball has that kind of range.

Making the cancellation extra strange, the Meijer was replaced on the schedule by the Shoprite Classic in New Jersey. There, they also have weather concerns in October, and it's another state hit hard by COVID-19.

Perhaps the Meijer's cancellation is as simple as the tournament not wanting to go up against college football. Michigan is home against Penn State, and Michigan is at Iowa that weekend.

But for now, we can only speculation the reasons behind the plug being pulled, so quickly after the LPGA Tour had announced plans to play the Meijer, which has been on the schedule since 2014.

“Meijer is committed to supporting our communities and the seventh Meijer LPGA Classic will be no exception once the time is right,” Meijer president and CEO Rick Keyes said in the May 20 announcement. “We know this event is an annual tradition for many families here in West Michigan, and while we are disappointed that this summer will feel different without it, we plan to continue supporting the community through this tournament in years to come.”

Tickets already purchased will be automatically refunded.

GAM ready to go

The Golf Association of Michigan is set to restart its tournament schedule, announcing Thursday its plan to run a "safety-first" schedule.

The first event is set for June 1-4, the GAM Senior Match Play Championship at Gull Lake View's Stoatin Brae course in Augusta.

Among the safety precautions being put in place: Social distancing, single-tee starts, one person per cart, smart-phone score reporting and no more buffets or clubhouse gatherings. The GAM is asking players to download the Golf Genius app for score reporting.

“We’re fortunate that golf is open throughout the state,” said Chris Whitten, executive director of the GAM. “Now that golf carts are available and most pro shops are operating, our host facilities are ready to welcome our players back. Golf is an outdoor activity that naturally lends itself to social distancing, and we feel we can make tournament play very safe following government guidelines and executive orders.

"We’ve followed other golf associations around the country and reached out for information from a national allied body of golf which includes the USGA to help us do this.

"We plan to adjust as we learn more and move forward.”

GAM staff, officials and volunteers, a group that totals more than 200, will participate in online tournament orientation to prepare for the new safety precautions.

Chips and divots

►Southeast Michigan PGA members Jordan Young and Brian Cairns have teamed up with several area businesses to collect and provide supplies to families in Midland that have been affected by the 500-year flood. They are asking for nonperishable foods, personal hygiene products, blankets, socks, clothes, diapers, cleaning supplies and gift cards. They can be dropped off at Fox Hills in Plymouth.

►The 27th Michigan PGA Women's Open, scheduled for June 29-July 1 at Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville, will be limited to 78 players because of COVID-19. That means there will be no cut this year. Among the safety precautions put in place, one volunteer will be assigned to each hole for flagstick duty, to cut down on shared touch points.

►All 10 Boyne golf courses will be open starting Friday. Boyne also has restaurants open, and is allowing two people to share the same cart.

►The Fortress in Frankenmuth made Golf Advisor's top 25 of best course designs.

Major Michigan tournaments

Champions: May 21-24, Senior PGA Championship, Golf Club at Harbor Shores, Benton Harbor (CANCELED)

PGA: July 2-5, Rocket Mortgage Classic, Detroit Golf Club (originally May 28-31)

LPGA: July 15-18, Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, Midland Country Club (CANCELED)

Champions: July 31-Aug. 2, Ally Challenge, Warwick Hills Golf & Country Club, Grand Blanc

USGA: Aug. 29-Sept. 3, U.S. Senior Amateur, Country Club of Detroit, Grosse Pointe Farms (CANCELED)

LPGA: Oct. 1-4, Meijer LPGA Classic, Blythefield Country Club, Belmont (CANCELED)

Twitter: @tonypaul1984