The Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic enters the third and final year of its contract with the LPGA Tour in 2019, but LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan is quick to dispel any doubt about its future.
Calling the tournament “the LPGA at its best,” Whan emphasized the importance of the Green Bay market to the tour and predicted that “over the next 10 years, I think it’s going to be one of the most popular events on our schedule.”
“My takeaway is that it’s an incredible hometown experience,” Whan said. “To me, it feels like Toledo and Portland and Palm Springs. I just threw out those cities and the shortest tenure of any of those I just named is 40 years. Green Bay, to me, already feels like the stops that have been on the tour for decades.
“It’s the kind of event that made the LPGA great and continues to make it great.”
After two years, the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic is still feeling its way to some extent, cultivating relationships with sponsors, building community support and exploring ways attract golf fans statewide.
“I think we’ve seen a lot of growth and success, especially from a partnership side of things,” said Josh Doxtator, the former chief operating officer for Oneida Golf Enterprise Corp. who departed in January to become general manager at Harbor Shores Resort in Benton Harbor, Michigan. “In Year One, there was a lot of hesitancy. The area wasn’t used to seeing a tournament year after year. After Year One, there was a lot more acceptance.
“In order for it to survive and be here for 20 or 30 years, it’s going to need community support and partnerships.”
The 2019 tournament is scheduled for July 4 through 7.
“Being in Green Bay on the Fourth of July, as an American, it’s a great place to be,” Whan said.
If you like to see the best players in the world make birdies, there’s no better place than Thornberry Creek, where South Korea’s Sei Young Kim shattered the LPGA’s 72-hole scoring record last year. She shot rounds of 63-65-64-65 for a 31-under-par 257 total, breaking the previous record of 27-under set by Annika Sorenstam at the 2001 Standard Register Ping and tied by Kim at the 2016 JTBC Founders Cup.
Kim also had the most sub-par holes in a single event with 32, breaking the record of 30 shared by Brittany Lincicome, Gerina Piller and Lexi Thompson.
And she wasn’t the only golfer to light it up. Of the 78 players who made the cut, there were 179 rounds in the 60s and 20 rounds of 65 or better. The field finished a combined 946 under par and in the final round alone there were 347 birdies and 10 eagles.
That begs a question: Is 6,624-yard Thornberry Creek too easy?
“I find it strange with people who have a problem with great golf,” Whan said. “It’s fun to watch. In professional golf you don’t get numbers like that because the course is easy. You get numbers like that because the greens are perfect.
“I hope we don’t try to make the golf course super hard. If every week is a U.S. Open, that’s not fun for the fans, the sponsors or the players.”
Doxtator is sensitive to the criticism that Thornberry Creek does not offer a stiff enough challenge.
“I think what people need to understand is that we’re at the mercy of the LPGA a little bit,” he said. “We can get the greens faster, which would provide more difficult conditions. We can get the greens to 13, 13½ (feet on the Stimpmeter). We averaged 11½ to 12 during the tournament.”
The Thornberry Creek Classic drew 64,000 spectators for the week last year, a slight increase from the 62,000 in the tournament’s inaugural year. It produced an economic impact of $7.4 million, according to Doxtator.
“We’re the second-largest economic impact behind the Packers from a sporting event,” he said. “This year our marketing plan is to reach down into the Milwaukee area with billboards and radio. From a media reach we are expanding further west, toward Eau Claire and La Crosse.”
Doxtator said he was hopeful a contract extension with the LPGA would be finalized by spring 2019.
“The LPGA wants us to be here,” he said. “They don’t want to go away. They know this is a great market for women’s golf.”