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Rochester deserves to keep LPGA tournament beyond next summer

By RICK WOODSON
On Sports
Rochester Business Journal
November 23, 2012

This is certainly not a surprise for those of us who love this great city: In 2013, we are going to have another historic occurrence here in Rochester-a first, something that has never happened before anywhere else in the U.S.
 
Those of you who can tell the difference between a golf ball and a bowling ball are no doubt aware that next summer, Rochester will host two major professional golf championships. The Wegmans LPGA Championship will be at Locust Hill Country Club in June, followed by the men's PGA Championship at Oak Hill CC in August.
 
Hey, it doesn't get any better than that! So eat your hearts out, all you other golf cities out there. No doubt there are golf fans in other places from sea to shining sea who have heard, or will hear, about the two majors coming here in '13 and will respond: "What? Rochester, New York? You gotta be kidding!"
 
Those poor souls are among the people who don't know, as I've said many times, that Rochester is a golf resort that isn't an official golf resort. Rochesterians love the great game like no others, which is why we have a great golf history and more than 90 courses within an hour's drive of downtown.
 
That said, what happens here next summer could be a once-in-a-lifetime thing for us. Oh, we'll get more men's majors down the road-maybe even another U.S. Open someday-but the LPGA tournament right now is more of a major concern.
 
Tournament co-chairman Jerry Stahl, who has been working with the LPGA here since the mid-1990s, says the chances are only 50-50 that the tournament-even as a non-major-will have a future here beyond 2013.
 
"There are a couple of issues," he explained. No. 1 is the expense of running the tournament, which Wegmans has sponsored for the past 15 years. As a major, it will have total prize money in 2013 of $2.5 million, the same as this year and $1 million more than in 2009, when it wasn't a major.
 
"We need to give Wegmans some help," Stahl said, which is why it took so long for the decision to bring the tournament back in '13. And that would mean bringing in another corporate sponsor to share some of the expenses. Will it happen? Who knows, but let's hope so! (Are you listening, Tom Golisano?)
 
The LPGA tournament has been played at Locust Hill since 1977 and has been a major that wasn't an official major (until 2011), drawing more fans than any women's tournament in the country, major or non-major. The players are not lying or just blowing smoke when they all say how much they love coming to Rochester to compete.
 
And yes, the women's tour has changed a lot. There are many, many more great foreign players than there were in 1978, when the great Nancy Lopez put our tournament on the map by making it her fifth consecutive victory. The only American on the LPGA's top-10 money list today is Stacy Lewis, who won three tournaments this year and the Rolex Player of the Year award.
 
Sure, we all pull for our country's players, but I go to Locust Hill to see good golf, no matter the citizenship of the person playing it. And I've never met an LPGA player from Japan or South Korea or wherever who wasn't a class act-on and off the golf course.
 
Still, I have been told that many of the long-time Locust Hill members are tired of having the tournament there. Too much of their own golf time is taken away, it's more trouble than it's worth, blah, blah, blah.
 
Look, Wegmans, Paychex, Mega Millions lottery winner, LPGA commissioner Michael Whan, somebody-anybody!-do whatever you have to do to keep this tournament here, OK? Its being the LPGA Championship is great, but being a major is not a must. So please, please don't send it down the Eastman Kodak road to nowhere!
 
I'm sure tournament coordinator Linda Hampton and her staff will do everything they can to keep the tournament alive and well. And so will the Wegmans family. But will the LPGA play hardball and refuse to make an offer Rochester can't refuse? Probably not, unless Whan turns over the negotiations to Moe, Larry and Curly. My guess is he's smarter than that.
 
Rochester, the golf capital of New York State, deserves to keep this tournament forever. Period! So as I said before, don't hope it happens, make it happen!
 
Rick Woodson's column appears each Thursday on the Rochester Business Journal website at www.rbjdaily.com. His book, "Words of Woodson," is available at www.authorhouse.com/bookstore. Listen to his weekly program, "The Golf Tee," at 9 a.m. Sunday on WHTK-AM 1280 and FM 107.11/23/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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