The LPGA so values the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic and the Green Bay market that Commissioner Mike Whan said the tour would do whatever it took to keep the event on the schedule, even if it meant giving the tournament new dates to ensure a stronger field.
“If they said it’s field strength or bust, we would move them to another time on the calendar,” Whan said in a telephone interview with Wisconsin.Golf.
The Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic, which debuted in 2017, is in the final year of its three-year contract in 2019 and negotiations are under way for an extension.
“We are working toward that,” said Josh Doxtator, the chief operating officer at Thornberry Creek. “We will have an answer, I would imagine, sometime in the spring. It’s in our best interest that we get it out there as soon as possible to secure multi-year sponsors.”
Though the tournament drew 62,000 spectators in 2017 and 64,000 last year, when winner Sei Young Kim shattered the LPGA’s 72-hole scoring record with a 31-under-par 257 total, strength of field has been an issue.
According to Doxtator, the tournament attracted 65 of the top 100 players in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings in 2017 and 78 of the top 100 last year. Notable by their absence have been American stars such as Michelle Wie, Lexi Thompson, Stacy Lewis and Paula Creamer. Wie and Creamer both committed to play last year but withdrew early in the week.
“They get a lot of top players, but not all of them,” Whan conceded.
Two years ago, the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic fell between two majors, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and the U.S. Women’s Open. Last year, it followed the Women’s PGA Championship. In both cases, the tournament was held over the Fourth of July week (July 6-9 and July 5-8) and in the heart of the LPGA’s busy summer schedule.
That has made it a convenient event to skip for some of the top players, despite a $2 million purse.
“I think the (Oneida Nation) shares in the same challenges that the spectator does,” Doxtator said. “They want the best in the world to be here.”
The LPGA released its 2019 schedule Friday and the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic has the same dates (July 4-7), but is bracketed by the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G, June 28-30, and the Marathon Classic presented by Dana, July 11-14.
"I think we'll be in a little better position schedule-wise this year," Doxtator said, adding that "we've been proposing to Lexi very hard and hopefully we get the Korda sisters (Jessica and Nelly)."
No doubt strength of field is a talking point in ongoing discussions with the LPGA. Whan stressed that the Green Bay market was important to the tour and called the tournament “the LPGA at its best.” He said he would do whatever was necessary to get the contract extension done.
“My deal is to make sure that whoever the title sponsor is gets what it wants,” he said. “If they said to me, ‘Hey, Mike, we want a stronger field,’ then we would work to make that happen, whether it’s dates or purse size.”
If the tournament was pushed back to August or September, Whan said, “we’d probably have a Saturday finish because we wouldn’t want to compete with the Packers on Sunday.”
Though there is no guarantee the Thornberry Creek Classic will continue after its third year, Whan made it sound as if the tournament will be a staple on the LPGA for years to come.
“My takeaway is that it’s an incredible hometown experience,” he 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 them (on the LPGA schedule) is 40 years. Green Bay already, to me, feels like the stops that have been on tour for decades.”
He added, “Over the next 10 years, I think it’s going to be one of the most popular events.”
Doxtator, too, was optimistic about the tournament’s future.
“The LPGA wants to be here,” he said. “They don’t want to go away. They know this is a great market for women’s golf.”