PETE MOLLICA Area has benefited from long run of LPGA tourney
VIENNA -- Tomorrow morning, things get under way at Squaw Creek Country Club for the 13th annual Giant Eagle LPGA Classic.
Actually, this is only the sixth Giant Eagle Classic. This event began in 1990 as the Phar-Mor in Youngstown. In 1993, the tournament name was switched to Youngstown-Warren LPGA Classic. Giant Eagle became the title sponsor after the 1996 event.
It's been a great 13 years for the Mahoning Valley. Not only have locals been enjoying some of the finest professional golf in the world, but the area has also benefited to the tune of nearly $3 million raised for local children's and educational charities.
Running for 12 straight years the tournament has ranked as one of the longest running events on tour. There are only 13 events on this year's schedule which have been running longer than the Giant Eagle Classic, and three of those are LPGA major events.
After a successful run of eight years at Avalon Lakes Golf Course in Howland, the tournament returned to Squaw Creek last year. The tournament was held at Squaw Creek in 1990 during the Phar-Mor days.
This year's tournament will be a big one for both Giant Eagle and the Mahoning Valley Sports Charities, owners of the tournament.
The MVSC and Giant Eagle have a three-year commitment from the LPGA, and matched that with a deal with Squaw Creek. However, both of those contracts will be ready to be negotiated following this year's event, the second-year of the deal.
The Squaw Creek deal won't be much of an issue since the club is more than happy to entertain the LPGA for one week each year.
But last year's tournament wasn't the biggest or best of the past events, and a good week might be needed to sway the LPGA over for another three-year deal.
Votaw from area
The fact that the commissioner of the LPGA is Ty Votaw, who is a Salem native and still has family in the area, is always a plus when dealing with the LPGA.
Referring to last year's tournament as not one of the best depends on who is talking.
The field probably wasn't top caliber, but the tournament came a week before the final LPGA major, the Weetabix British Open, held in England.
The crowds early in the week weren't up to Giant Eagle standards of past events, but the overall picture was still pretty good.
The tournament was packed with action and the finish was typical -- another come-from-behind finish, this time for the second straight year by two-time defending champion Dorothy Delasin.
Donation increased again
The crowds on the three tournament days were again great, and the Mahoning Valley Sports Charities bettered their charitable donation for the ninth straight year.
This year's tournament field just might be the best they've had in the 13-year history.
Aside from the No. 1 player in the world, Annika Sorenstam, and last week's U.S. Women's Open champion, Julie Inkster, most of the top players will be here. Another of the hottest players on tour, Laura Diaz, has withdrawn.
This year's field is headed by two-time Rolex Player of the Year and future LPGA Hall of Famer Karrie Webb.
Dottie Pepper, always a favorite here, is still struggling since coming back from surgery and won't play.
Past champs back
All but two of the tournament's past champions will be returning. Only Betsy King, the 1992 winner, and Deb Richard, the 1991 champ, have not committed.
Delasin and two-time champions Tammie Green and Michele McGann will play here, along with Se Ri Pak, Jackie Gallagher-Smith and Beth Daniel, the tournament's first champion.
Richard, who had intended on playing, withdrew from the U.S. Women's Open with an injury.
Then there is the final appearance of 1993 champion and LPGA Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez.
Lopez, who will be playing in this tournament for the ninth time, is making a farewell tour this year and is playing in one of her all-time favorite tournaments.
She isn't retiring completely from competition, but she will no longer play a full schedule and hopes to be spending time in the television broadcast booth for The Golf Channel, which carries most of the LPGA tournaments.
Tournament competition begins Friday, but there is plenty of action going on at Squaw Creek Monday through Thursday.
It promises to be an exciting week -- you don't want to miss it.
XPete Mollica covers the LPGA for The Vindicator. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org