A professional golf tournament can only be as good as its sponsors and volunteers, and for that reason alone the Giant Eagle LPGA Classic ranks with the best of all the tournaments on the LPGA Tour.
With a title sponsor like Giant Eagle, this tournament has moved to an all-time high in money donated to local children's and educational charities.
Today is the opening day for this year's tournament at Squaw Creek Country Club, and before Sunday's final round there will be many exciting moments for the fans of the Mahoning Valley.
This week of every year is special to the Valley. Not only because of the money donated to charity -- that figure will certainly surpass the $3 million mark this year -- but it also gives fans a week of entertainment found nowhere else in the area.
Charity is the key
But the key to this event is charity and the Mahoning Valley Sports Charities, owners of the tournament, keep close tabs on every dollar that comes in and goes out.
Nobody knows the actual figure because attendance figures are never made public for this tournament, but it's my estimate that hundreds of thousands of fans attend this event annually.
Last year there were 56 charities that shared in a record $455,000 that was donated by the tournament.
That's come a long way from 1993 when Mahoning Valley Sports Charities took over this tournament and produced $162,966 for charity.
That figure has increased every year and MVSC is going to be hard pressed to improve on last year's record figure.
Giant Eagle has always been involved in this tournament, even back in 1990-92 when it was the Phar-Mor in Youngstown event. It has been one of the original founding sponsors and then in 1997 made the big jump to the title sponsor role.
"Giant Eagle's support of the Giant Eagle LPGA Classic is really another commitment of ours to the entire Mahoning Valley," said Giant Eagle Senior Vice-president of Marketing Laura Karet. "There are so many local organizations and non-profits that really benefit from this tournament, and they are likewise able to extend services to children and families in need."
This year the Giant Eagle event will also honor local police, fire and EMS departments as well as the Vienna Air Force Reserve Base by distributing complimentary tournament tickets to each organization.
"In addition to their daily service to the community, many of these individuals play an important role in the success of the tournament each year through fire inspections, traffic control and other necessary tasks," added Karet. "We want to be sure to recognize and thank them for all they do, not only during tournament week, but all year long as well."
Giant Eagle, founded in 1931, is one of the nation's largest food retailers and food distributors with over $4.2 billion in annual sales. It has grown to be the No. 1 supermarket retailer in the region with 124 corporate and 88 independently owned and operated stores throughout Western Pennsylvania, Ohio, north central West Virginia and Maryland.
Many other commitments
The LPGA Tournament is by no means the only event that Giant Eagle is active in. It provides support for local food banks, community events, the United Way, The Salvation Army, Race for The Cure and other non-profit organizations.
The company has also created education initiatives like Apples For The Students, which has provided millions of dollars in computer equipment, software and other classroom learning tools for local schools and the Be A Smart Shopper school nutrition program.
Yes there is a lot more to the Giant Eagle LPGA Classic than just great golf, but that's what most of us will be here watch beginning today.
XPete Mollica is covering the Giant Eagle LPGA Classic for The Vindicator. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.