Pittsford, N.Y. | This week marks the end of an era for the LPGA as players tee off in the Wegmans LPGA Championship for the last time and the tour departs the Rochester, N.Y., market after 38 years.
The LPGA’s fourth major, which is also its second-longest running tournament (60 years) behind the U.S. Women’s Open, starts Thursday at Monroe Golf Club, a Donald Ross layout that is hosting the event for the first – and last – time. Next year the tournament will become the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, to be contested at Westchester Country Club in Rye, N.Y.
It’s a bittersweet moment for the players, who have reveled in the long-term support of a committed title sponsor and fan base in Rochester but next year will play for a significantly larger purse ($3.5 million vs. this year’s $2.25 million) in an event that figures to draw substantially greater exposure, thanks to a weekend TV broadcast on NBC and its location in the greater New York City media market.
“Change is tough,” said Juli Inkster, a Hall of Famer who has been coming to Rochester since the early 1980s. “I do have to admit I’m not a big fan of losing the LPGA Championship name, but I think in the long run for the LPGA it’s going to be great.”
On Wednesday, Inkster, Laura Davies and Paula Creamer were among those who waxed nostalgic about some of their favorite Rochester memories.
Inkster recalled huge galleries that rivaled those at the U.S. Women’s Open and gave a shoutout to the “sickos” who sat behind the severely canted fifth green at longtime tournament host Locust Hill Country Club and “watched everybody four- and five-putt.” Davies talked about Rochester’s wealth of good Indian restaurants. And Creamer spoke of playing in front of her grandfather, Tom Creamer, who lived in Ithaca, N.Y., and the emotion that accompanied her return after his death in 2012.
“It was probably the most emotional I’ve ever been on a golf course,” the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open champion said.
This week’s event likewise will conjure strong feelings among the faithful who have supported LPGA golf in Rochester since 1977. (The LPGA had an annual stop at Locust Hill through 2009 that was succeeded by the LPGA Championship at the same venue from 2010-13.)
On Wednesday afternoon, Debi Combs of Canandaigua, N.Y., was as giddy as a schoolgirl when she spotted Davies strolling near the clubhouse. After Davies obliged her admirer by posing for a photo, the longtime tournament attendee minced no words about the tournament’s impending departure.
“I hate to see it go,” she said.