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Major problem? LPGA, Wegmans to discuss future

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PITTSFORD, N.Y. – The future of the Wegmans LPGA Championship is in limbo again with the major set to begin Thursday at Locust Hill Country Club.

The contract Wegmans signed as title sponsor expires with the conclusion of this week’s event.

“It’s under discussion, but with the event here, we have decided to focus on the championship this week,” said Jerry Stahle, Wegmans LPGA Championship tournament chairman. “Nothing will happen until after the tournament.”

The long-time LPGA event stepped up to major championship status in 2010.

Locust Hill has been home to a regular LPGA event since 1977. Wegman’s has been on board since ’98.

With the LPGA Championship in flux with McDonald’s out as sponsor after the ’09 event at Bulle Rock in Maryland, Wegmans came to the rescue, stepping up to sponsor this major. The big question ever since has been whether Locust Hill is the right home for the LPGA’s flagship event.

Wegmans officials hear the question. So do LPGA officials.

“The fact that it was a regular tour event for so long, some people may think it doesn’t feel like a major,” Stahle said. “I can say we are very, very comfortable with Locust Hill and the quality of the golf here.”

Even players wonder, though.

“I think everything here is great, Wegmans, Rochester, the fans and the venue, but I don’t know if I get the feeling that it’s a proper major,” said Maria Hjorth, a five-time LPGA winner. “The U.S. Women’s Open is the U.S. Women’s Open. The Kraft Nabisco feels like our Masters. The Women’s British Open is the Women’s British Open. This one may be our equivalent to the PGA Championship right now.”

Hjorth isn’t alone feeling this way, but the comments come mostly off the record.

“I do think this is an important tournament, one of our better events, whether it’s a major or a regular event,” Hjorth said. “And I do hope we continue to play here.”

This is the 58th LPGA Championship. The list of past winners reads like a Who’s Who of Women’s Golf. Mickey Wright won this event four times. Kathy Whitworth, Nancy Lopez, Patty Sheehan, Annika Sorenstam and Se Ri Pak each won it three times. Betsy Rawls, Louise Suggs, Pat Bradley and Juli Inkster have won it.

The LPGA Championship is the tour’s second longest running event, trailing only the U.S. Women’s Open, but there’s no denying the LPGA Championship lacks the sense of grandeur of the U.S. Women’s Open, or the Kraft Nabisco Championship, with its unique and colorful traditions and history, or now the Ricoh Women’s British Open with its visits to historic venues like the Old Course at St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Birkdale and Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

Next year, the Evian Masters, in its first year as the LPGA’s fifth major, will likely tower over the LPGA Championship with all the pomp and circumstance the French will pour into that event and its new status.

Still, all things considered for LPGA leadership, keeping a tie as important as Wegmans and Rochester may trump any complaints of lack of grandeur. Plus, there is a deep gratitude among LPGA leadership for what Wegmans did stepping up as title sponsor of this championship.

Though the Wegmans tournament committee has addressed the possibility of rotating the championship to other venues, with Oak Hill and Rochester Country Club possibly joining the mix with Locust Hill, that scenario seems remote. A rotation adds to operational challenges and expenses that will complicate Wegmans’ sponsorship.

LPGA officials are scheduled to resume negotiations with Wegmans tournament officials later this month.

There’s still a lot to talk about.