Tourney success reflected effort
The Giant Eagle LPGA Classic is over for another year.
The skyboxes are being dismantled, the tents are coming down and thousands of miles of cable, wire and the ever-popular yellow roping are all being rolled up for next year.
The tournament was a success as usual, but this year was an important one for Mahoning Valley Sports Charities, which operates the tournament and is the body responsible for dispersing the tournament proceeds to area charities.
After eight successful seasons at Avalon Lakes Golf Course, the tournament moved to Squaw Creek Country Club this year and there were people who had their doubts the event would be successful because of the hard feelings which were left by some concerning the move.
The tournament lost three of its major sponsors because of the switch as well as a golf course which was fan-friendly and enjoyed by thousands the past nine years.
Admirable: Squaw Creek was definitely as well set up as any tournament at Avalon Lakes and the golf course got so much praise the past week from the LPGA players that course superintendent Lou Greco even started to blush.
The course was beautiful. "Perfect" said many pros and the tournament operations layout was as good as any in the past.
Tournament manager Eddie Thomas, who has been in charge of all 12 of the LPGA events in the area, took a long, deep breath when it was all over.
"This one was a pretty good challenge for us," Thomas said. "Not from the standpoint of Squaw Creek Country Club, because we knew what they were capable of doing here, but with the loss of major sponsors and others cutting back, it was a big challenge to fill those gaps.
"Once again the Mahoning Valley came to the rescue as they have been doing for all 12 years of this event," Thomas added. "They stepped up when we needed them and the tournament went off with great success."
Ever since the MVSC took over the tournament in 1993 they have made it a priority to return the proceeds back into the Valley through the charities.
This year's check, as it has been for the past nine years, was bigger than the year's before. The final number was $455,000, which was $5,000 more than the 2000 check.
Thomas believes the tournament will continue to grow. The event is contracted to be played at Squaw Creek through 2004.
While this year's field was missing many of the top names on the Tour, it still produced some fine action.
Twenty-year-old Dorothy Delasin came from behind to win for the second straight year.
"What she did was really unbelievable," said Thomas. "First winning as a 19-year-old rookie and coming back a year later to successfully defend her title, both times coming from well back in the pack. It's hard to imagine the pressure on that young lady this week."
Next year the tournament will move up a week in the LPGA schedule and will be played July 15-21. It will also not be scheduled either just before or just after a major tournament.
Might improve field: "We'll be situated right between two U.S. regular tour stops and we're hopeful of getting more of the top players entered," Thomas said.
Attendance was down throughout the week, in comparison to other years, but Thomas claimed Sunday's attendance compared favorably to previous final rounds. Thomas would not release the attendance figures, which he has never done.
"When those last two groups came down the 18th hole, the entire hole was surrounded by people and that's a long par-4," he said. "I'm happy with the way everything went and it's only going to get better next year."
XPete Mollica covered the LPGA Giant Eagle Classic for The Vindicator. Write him at email@example.com.