By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- When the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) officially releases its 2005 schedule Wednesday at the season-ending ADT Championships in West Palm Beach, Fla., the Giant Eagle LPGA Classic will not be on it.
After a 15-year run, the Mahoning Valley's premier event will not return next season.
The tournament was begun at Squaw Creek Country Club by former Phar-Mor executive Mickey Monus and was known as The Phar-Mor in Youngstown.
After the Phar-Mor scandal, a group of investors took ownership, and it became known as the Youngstown-Warren LPGA Classic in 1993. It became the Giant Eagle LPGA Classic in 1997.
In recent years, the tournament has struggled financially as sponsors began to pull their support.
Giant Eagle's decision
The final straw came after the 2004 tournament, when title sponsor Giant Eagle announced that it would cut back on its involvement.
Since the 2004 tournament concluded in July, tournament director Eddie Thomas and the tournament's owners, Mahoning Valley Sports Charities, have been looking for someone or some organization to step up and help with the tournament finances, but to no avail.
When contacted by The Vindicator, Thomas confirmed the tournament would not be on the 2005 schedule.
"How could it be when the [unsigned] contract [with the LPGA] is still sitting on my desk?" Thomas said.
Several calls to LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw were not returned. Votaw is a native of Salem and a graduate of South Range High.
Upset over schedule
Thomas was upset with the LPGA because the 2004 tournament was scheduled two weeks after the U.S. Women's Open and two weeks before the Weetabix Women's British Open, two of the LPGA's four majors.
That scheduling assured a field that would not include many of the LPGA's top players, who normally take time off from the Tour around the majors.
In fact, only one player among the top 20 in earnings for the year entered the Giant Eagle Classic.
In 2003, the Giant Eagle Classic was held the same weekend as the British Open on the men's tour.
After the 2004 event, Thomas indicated that the LPGA had "penciled in" the '05 Giant Eagle for the June 27-July 3, after the USGA Women's Open, which again would have meant a very weak field.
Unhappy with the LPGA's help in getting a respectable date, Thomas considered bringing in an LPGA senior tournament, which annually has only two or three events, but that effort also fell through.
In 1992, after the Phar-Mor scandal, Thomas and several of the area's top businessmen came together to help save the tournament. One of those was Ron Klingle, who owned Avalon Lakes at the time and has since added Squaw Creek Country Club, the two homes of the tournament.
A top event
That group pumped new life into the tournament, moved it to Avalon Lakes, and by 1996, the event was one of the top events on the LPGA Tour.
Thomas was able to attract Giant Eagle as the title sponsor, raising the tournament's purse to $1 million in 1997, at the time one of the largest on the LPGA Tour.
But Thomas and Klingle became embroiled in a power struggle and after the 2000 tournament, the contract between Avalon Lakes and the tournament expired and Thomas was forced to move the tournament back to Squaw Creek.
Attendance, though never officially announced, steadily declined, and the declining economy forced more sponsors to pull their support.
Giant Eagle was called on to absorb more of the costs, until it reached a point last year where company officials believed they could no longer provide that level of support.
With Giant Eagle pulling out and other local sponsorship falling off steadily, there was nowhere for Thomas and the MVSC to turn.
Thomas said he plans to keep the tournament office open, but on Jan. 1, he will officially retire.
"I've taken a beating from this community in recent years," he said. "All I've ever wanted was to put on a first-class tournament and give as much money as possible to charity."