LPGA players salute Rochester for 38 years

Juli Inkster, shown at the 2014 U.S. Women's Open, is among the LPGA players to enjoy Monroe Golf Course throughout the years.

PITTSFORD, N.Y. – The LPGA has been coming to Rochester almost as long as Karrie Webb has been alive. It’s where Paula Creamer learned to drive and Juli Inkster celebrated her 50th birthday. Laura Davies has a strong rotation of Indian spots she has frequented here during the past 20-plus years.

The people of the Rochester area treat the LPGA like family so, in a way, this place feels like home.

“I got a sponsor exemption to this event when I was 16 years old,” Creamer said. “I’ve had the same security guard since I was 16 and now I’m 28.”

There’s an odd mix of emotions swirling around Monroe Golf Club. Players have raved about the new venue, calling this 1923 Donald Ross gem (No. 87 Golfweek's Best Classic Courses list) one of the best tracks on the LPGA’s schedule. The new digs have revitalized a staff that’s preparing for the end.

It's such a shame to tee it up here one time and then leave.

“I don’t know why we haven’t been here for a while,” Inkster said.

Top-ranked Stacy Lewis called Monroe the second-best venue of 2014, behind only Pinehurst No. 2, site of the U.S. Women's Open.

Monroe members commissioned Ross to design the course for $5,500, and he had 16-year-old Robert Trent Jones on the construction crew. The first round of golf here was played on July 4, 1924.

Not only is the LPGA leaving Rochester after 38 years, it’s also breaking up with the title “LPGA Championship” as it changes to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in 2015.

Inkster speaks for many when she says it’s disappointing for the tour’s second-oldest major to lose its name, but she thinks the long-term benefits of having the PGA of America as a partner will be “great” for the tour.

“Having the PGA of America involved in supporting a women’ sports organization is huge,” Inkster said. “They’ll run it well. They have a huge amount of marketing money to promote women’s golf, and I think that’s where we lack sometimes is the marketing.”

Perhaps the LPGA can return to the Rochester area for a regular-season event and enjoy the best of both worlds: a stronger major and a continuing relationship with this valued community.

Webb echoes the thoughts of many when saying she refuses to believe this marks the end of Rochester’s love affair with the LPGA.

“You know, the Rochester community has given us a lot over the years, but I feel like we've given back a lot by the entertainment we've provided but also the charity money that we've raised for the local community,” Webb said. “So hopefully it's goodbye for now, but hopefully we'll be back.”

Since debuting at nearby Locust Hill in 1977 as the Bankers Trust Classic, LPGA events in the Rochester area have given back more than $10 million to the community.

The LPGA Championship has a long and varied history. It began in 1955 at Orchard Ridge Country Club in Fort Wayne, Ind. The purse that year: $6,000.

Monroe Golf Club is the 15th venue for the championship, which had been held at Locust Hill for the last four years. Wegmans stepped up and elevated its status from a regular-season event at a crucial time in tour history.

It’s unfortunate that the LPGA couldn’t find a way to keep Wegmans, a regional supermarket chain headquartered in nearby Gates, as part of the family indefinitely. But that’s business.

“The opportunity with KPMG was one I think we couldn't turn down,” Lewis said.

Inkster said the Rochester-area crowds were incredible when she first came out on tour. Back then Nancy Lopez, Patty Sheehan and Pat Bradley brought them out in droves.

“By far the biggest gallery we played in front of all year long was Rochester,” Inkster said.

When the Hall of Famer first came to town, residents charged a couple of dollars for fans to park in their driveways. Now it’s $10 for a practice round near Monroe Golf Club.

“I feel kind of bad driving by Locust Hill; there's no parking,” Creamer said. “I feel like we're not helping them go on their vacations or whatnot.”

Lewis hopes the prevailing message this week from the players is one of thanks. Without the support of Wegmans for these past 30-plus years, there’s no opportunity to advance.

“Instead of everybody talking about how sad it is, we should be celebrating,” Lewis said. “How many tournaments on the men’s or the women’s side can say that they’ve been in a town for 38 years?”

Not many.

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