Even the most passionate Wisconsin golf fans might not be familiar with rising stars like Ruixin Liu, Dottie Ardina, Pavarisa Yoktuan, Elizabeth Szokol, Linnea Strom, Stephanie Meadow, Kendall Dye, Charlotte Thomas or Dana Finkelstein.
They were all in the field last August at the fourth annual PHC Classic at Brown Deer Park Golf Course in Milwaukee. They were also nine of the 10 golfers who earned a promotion from the Symetra Tour to the LPGA Tour in 2019 by virtue of top-10 finishes in the Volvik Race For The Card at the end of the 2018 season.
But Wisconsin golf fans can probably recognize veteran golfers such as Laura Davies, Trish Johnson, Juli Inkster, Liselotte Neumann and Sheboygan native Martha Nause. They are among the Legends Tour stars who will likely be called upon to help bridge the gap between past and future of the LPGA Tour in August, when the Symetra Tour and Legends Tour cross paths at Janesville Country Club.
The inaugural Janesville Golf Classic will debut on both schedules in 2019 with the Symetra Tour playing a 54-hole tournament starting Aug. 2 and 3 before the Legends Tour joins the LPGA’s developmental tour Aug. 4 for an 18-hole event. For the Symetra Tour, the Janesville event will launch a two-week stay in the state with the PHC returning to the schedule the next weekend at Brown Deer Park.
“When (Janesville CC) came to us and we had the opportunity to pair them up with the existing event in Milwaukee, it was a perfect fit having the two (events) back-to-back,” said Mike Nichols, the chief business officer for the Symetra Tour. “They will benefit each other in terms of attracting stronger fields because they are right there back-to-back. I also think the people from Janesville getting their first taste of the Symetra Tour, if they enjoy the experience, might find their way to Milwaukee and the casino the following week. … It’s a win-win for all concerned.”
Janesville CC wasn’t looking to score a Symetra/Legends twinbill, according to general manager Derek Intinarelli, but his members are excited at the opportunity to showcase the oldest country club in Wisconsin and sixth-oldest in the country.
“To be honest, we weren’t looking to do anything quite like this,” said Intinarelli, the general manager at the TPC-Stonebrae in Hayward, California — the site of the Web.com Tour’s Ellie Mae Classic — before coming to Janesville a year ago. “I’ve run three Web.coms, I’ve worked at the committee level for two U.S. Opens so I know how great they can be when they are well-organized and well-run.”
Nichols used the “win-win” analogy in describing the potential an event that links the Symetra Tour with the Legends Tour. He said a similar effort in 2017 at French Lick Resort in Indiana paired a Symetra Tour event at the start of tournament week with the inaugural Senior LPGA Championship at the end of the week. In 2018, the Symetra Tour event was in July and the Senior LPGA in October.
“One of the challenges we have on the Symetra Tour is that people really haven’t heard about the players so they may not appreciate how good the level of play is,” Nichols said. “By bringing in some of these players like a Laura Davies or a Nancy Lopez or Catriona Matthew — players who have won major championships on the LPGA Tour and with whom people have an affinity — people come out and watch them play. People will come out to watch the Legends and they’ll be like ‘Oh, my goodness, I had no idea the level of play out here on the Symetra Tour.’ It’s good for us, in terms of it raising the profile of the Symetra Tour event.”
In turn, Nicols said, the Janesville event stands to raise the profile of Milwaukee’s event, which has enjoyed great success in luring the top golfers on the Symetra Tour to a venue that previously hosted the PGA Tour’s Greater Milwaukee Open.
“One of the things that made Milwaukee special is being able to go to Brown Deer, which is a course that hosted the PGA Tour and famously hosted Tiger Woods’ first professional event,” Nichols said. “For these players who have not yet made it onto the LPGA Tour, for them to be able to say they are playing on a golf course that previously hosted a PGA Tour event and is still as good of a golf course as it was back then. … It’s definitely one of the favorites of the players each year.”
Milwaukee County Parks officials don’t anticipate that changing with another Wisconsin event on the developmental tour’s calendar immediately before it.
“I think the only impact the Janesville event has on the Milwaukee event is positive,” said Chet Hendrickson, golf services manager for Milwaukee County Parks. “If anything, I think it creates more awareness. There are probably people in Janesville who weren’t aware there is a Milwaukee event and probably people in Milwaukee (unaware of an event 90 miles away in Janesville beginning this year). So I don’t see how it takes away from anything here in Milwaukee.
“Hopefully, it lets us keep building it and who knows where it ends up some day.”