LPGA Tour set to return to Grand Rapids; stacked field to take on renovated Blythefield

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Belmont, Mich. — For more than a year, it seemed like all the news alerts were bad news. Then came a rare good one last Thursday for the folks who run the Meijer LPGA Classic, long one of the most popular and well-attended tournaments on the top women's professional golf tour.

Outdoor capacity restrictions are being lifted June 1, and the Meijer LPGA Classic will allow 100% attendance for its tournament June 17-20 just northeast of Grand Rapids.

Brooke Henderson won the Meijer LPGA Classic in 2019. She's back in the field to defend her title at Blythefield Country Club near Grand Rapids.

Tickets, all $10 with children 17 and younger getting in free, go on sale Tuesday.

"We're so pleased to safely bring this tournament back," said Cathy Cooper, executive director of the tournament. 

The governor's recent order regarding outdoor capacity came one year to the day, May 20, that the LPGA Tour canceled the 2020 Meijer LPGA Classic. Last year's tournament was to take place in June, but then was pushed to October, before organizers finally pulled the plug, realizing fans, the foundation of the event, wouldn't be allowed.

Both LPGA Tour events in Michigan, including the Great Lakes Bay Invitational in Midland, were canceled in 2020, while the PGA Tour's Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit and the Champions Tour's Ally Challenge in Grand Blanc went on without fans.

"It was heartbreaking," Cooper said. "We never quit."

A 144-player field will mark the return of the tournament, which will play for the seventh time next month at Blythefield Country Club, a historic club whose roster of winners includes Arnold Palmer (1961 Western Open) and Rickie Fowler (2005 Western Junior).

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In the field, typically one of the strongest non-major fields on the LPGA Tour, will be four former champions including Brooke Henderson and Lexi Thompson, nine of the top-10 ranked players in the world, including No. 1 Jin Young Ko, fan favorites Christina Kim and Stacy Lewis, and Hall-of-Famers Cristie Kerr and Laura Davies.

They'll be playing a renovated Blythefield Country Club, whose members spent more than $3 million on a new practice facility, more distance and new bunkers and fairways. The greens have been put back to the sizes and shapes they were back in 1928, when the course opened, Blythefield being the least club in Michigan (along with Oakland Hills' South Course and others) to turn back time. The course renovations began in August, with the entire course closing a month later.

"We're looking forward to another fun tournament," Meijer CEO Rick Keyes said Monday, as tournament officials showed off the new old-look course.

Missing from this year's LPGA Meijer Classic is the wildly popular Grand Taste, where a cheap ticket would get fans an all-you-can-eat experience of the Grand Rapids area's best restaurants and breweries. The governor's capacity announcement came too late to salvage that 25,000-square-foot smorgasbord, but tournament officials pledge that will return in 2022. For this year, the tournament is adding additional concession options, with seating, to again showcase the area's best grub.

And the Meijer LPGA Classic again plans on continuing its charitable effort for Simply Give, supporting the Midwest's food pantries, including 23 in the West Michigan area. Meijer announced a $30,000 donation to Grand Rapids-area pantries Monday morning to kick off this year's efforts, after Meijer and the tournament still were able to commit $1.1 million last year, despite having no tournament and, thus, no ticket sales. Between the 2020 Rocket, Meijer and Ally tournaments, more than $4.6 million still went to charity, mostly in Detroit, Grand Rapids and Flint communities. For Meijer, last year brought its seven-year charitable total to $6.3 million, or 60 million meals.

"That was huge, that made it all worthwhile," Cooper said of finding any silver lining to the disappointment of 2020. "That's where are focus was."

Meijer LPGA Classic

When: June 17-20

Where: Blythefield Country Club, Belmont

2019 winner: Brooke Henderson

Tickets: $10, available at meijerlpgaclassic.com; children 17 and younger get in free; parking free at Rockford High School

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984