LPGA future at a crossroads at Locust Hill


LPGA ChampionshipPITTSFORD, N.Y. – So where does the LPGA Championship go from here?

The question lingers in the wake of Cristie Kerr’s victory Sunday at Locust Hill Country Club.

This was originally planned as the temporary home of the LPGA Championship with Wegmans the temporary presenting sponsor. This was supposed to be a one-year solution as the LPGA sought a long-term answer after losing McDonald’s as sponsor last year and taking ownership of the event this year.

Locust Hill was supposed to return to its former place as a regular tour stop next year and Wegmans was supposed to return as the title sponsor.

But the Wegmans family is making it known it would very much like to keep the major championship here.

“We would really enjoy being designated a major in the future,” said Jerry Stahl, co-chairman of the local tournament foundation. “We have the support of our sponsor, Wegmans, to pursue that.”

And LPGA commissioner Mike Whan is considering the possibility.

“We’re still looking at options,” LPGA chief communications officer David Higdon said.

It’s a crossroads for this championship’s future.

Should the tour embrace the security and stability Wegmans offers and make this the long-term home of the event? The downside is that with the tour’s roots here going back 34 years, it’s more difficult to make this feel like a major championship. The event’s been a regular tour stop for so long.

Higdon said the tour will meet with Wegmans tournament officials to review how this week played out as a major and what modifications would be required for the LPGA Championship to remain here.

The local tournament foundation’s contract with Locust Hill runs one more year. Wegmans actually has no contract with the tournament foundation and operates on a handshake agreement.

“It’s a good faith contract, but the Wegmans family is very, very supportive of this event,” Stahl said.

There’s no frontrunner as future sponsor or home to the championship. The tour had serious talks with DuPont about becoming sponsor of the LPGA Championship and returning the event to DuPont Country Club in Delaware, but tour officials are looking elsewhere again.

Count Kerr among players who would like the LPGA Championship to remain at Locust Hill.

“I think this is a great venue for the tournament,” Kerr said. “The fans are some of the best, if not the best we have on tour. The sponsor is one of our longest standing.”

Tournament officials estimate attendance will be about 100,000 for the week. The crowds were good despite weather problems, with turnouts substantially better than they were at the McDonald’s LPGA Championship at Bulle Rock last year.

“That’s important,” Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez said. “I think the LPGA Championship should be played in a community that will support it. It’s exciting to win a major and be surrounded by adoring crowds. The excitement and electricity that surround an event is what makes it feel like a major. A lot of times, we’ve gone to majors and don’t have large crowds.

“Locust Hill is a great golf course, and I love it here.”

Hall of Famer Juli Inkster said she would like to see the LPGA Championship rotate to traditional venues that conjur major championship memories and history.

“This has been awesome here this week, but I would like to see it rotate to some well known championship courses,” Inkster said. “I think it makes a difference. It adds credibility to the LPGA Championship, not that this does not. It’s been a great test this week, and it was set up well.”

LPGA veteran Angela Stanford appreciates Wegmans devotion to the tour, but she sees a dilemma.

“We are in a tough spot, because Wegmans is a great sponsor and they’ve had a great event for many years,” Stanford said. “In my mind, if the LPGA Championship stays here, we are losing a tournament.

“Ideally, you would like to have Wegmans back and have the LPGA Championship rotate among three golf courses. I think it would be pretty cool to have it rotate among three courses in the Northeast. That’s my idea.”

At this point, the LPGA appears to still be open to ideas about the future of its important event.