To this point in the Wisconsin golf season, most everything has gone like clockwork and provided its fair share of excitement along the way.
The American Family Insurance Championship crowned its first home-grown champion when Jerry Kelly outlasted fellow Madisonian and tournament host Steve Stricker and Retief Goosen in a playoff at University Ridge. Stricker bounced back the next week by winning the U.S. Senior Open.
Piercen Hunt bounced back from a sixth-place finish at the WIAA Division 1 state tournament, an event the rising senior at Hartland Arrowhead had won the previous two years, by winning, among other things, the Western Junior Championship. His victory in that event has highlighted a strong summer by many of Wisconsin's rising stars — think Harrison Ott, Hunter Eichhorn and Matt Tolan on the men's amateur side; Tess Hackworthy, Sarah Busey and Abby Cavaiani among the women's amateur side and Charlie Danielson, Jordan Niebrugge and Dan Woltman on the men's professional side — and, as they say, there is still a lot of golf to be played.
The Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic served up another entertaining week of women's golf outside of Green Bay and, now at the end of its three-year deal with the LPGA Tour, left everyone wondering if there would be a Year 4. The U.S. Girls' Junior Championship came and went last week amid rave reviews of the SentryWorld layout and, of course, the young ladies who played on it.
I could go on and on about all the good that has come since we melted the snow and opened the golf courses in Wisconsin. But I pause here to kill the mood and bring you some disappointing news (if you didn't already know).
The Symetra Tour event that was to have been staged this weekend at Janesville Country Club at the front end of a double-header showcasing the LPGA's developmental tour Friday and Saturday before a shared marquee Sunday with the Legends Tour has taken on a whole new look. Gone is the Symetra Tour portion of the festivities and, in its place, is a two-day Legends Tour pro-am, featuring 28 former LPGA Tour stars age 45 and older — including Sheboygan's Martha Nause and Becky Iverson, director of golf at the Bridges GC in Madison.
The Janesville LPGA Senior Pro-Am, originally to have been a one-day competitive event followed by a Monday pro-am, will begin Friday evening with a pairings party. Amateur teams will be matched with a pro for Saturday's opening round and then paired up with a different pro for Sunday's final round.
I learned of the change via the father of a Symetra Tour golfer and realized the original idea must have spiraled in a bad direction quickly after our story on the addition to the Wisconsin golf calendar first appeared in the 2019 Wisconsin.Golf Yearbook and, later, online on our Wisconsin.golf Website.
Derek Ininarelli, the Janesville CC general manager who spoke with such great excitement about the joint event when we chatted last winter, was no longer on the club's payroll. Mike Nichols, the chief business officer for the Symetra Tour who had called the Janesville event "a perfect fit" because it created a two-week stay for Symetra Tour golfers headed next week to the PHC Classic at Brown Deer Park, issued a quick "no comment" when reached via email.
"I won’t be commenting beyond this release," Nichols wrote, referring to a June 3 news release, presumably from Janesville CC, that never made it to our inbox and never referenced the original plan for a combined event or why it went away.
Clearly, the club bit off more than it could chew.
When we spoke last winter, Nichols told me that "new events will at least need to meet the minimum threshold of the average purse" when they come onto the Symetra Tour schedule. That meant Janesville CC was on the hook for $150,000 and, absent a title sponsor, would need a lot of help to absorb the cost of paying the golfers, let alone other expenses of running a professional event.
A title sponsor was never announced for the Symetra Tour event. And, to this point, a title sponsor has not been announced for the re-imagined Legends Tour event nor does one appear in a description of the event on the Legends Tour website, although Janesville CC officials told me Blackhawk Community Credit Union and Robert W. Baird have thrown their support behind the pro-am.
"It's not that we're closing the door on the Symetra Tour at all," Steve Grover, the Janesville CC president, said in a recent telephone interview. "We thought this was a good opportunity to help out the LPGA. They're trying to help (their) seniors get some momentum with (the Legends Tour). We felt it was a better opportunity for our community to be able get people out to our course to play alongside these legends. When we were approached for this type of event, we felt it would fit within our parameters a little better so we decided 'Let's give it a shot.'"
Indeed, a two-day Legends Tour event is probably a better fit for Janesville, which community leaders proudly say is enjoying a resurgence of late, now 10 years removed from the closure of the General Motors plant that had been the heartbeat of the city for nearly a century.
The golf tournament was designed to capture that excitement and showcase the community through its country club, founded in 1894 and one of the oldest in the country. And here's hoping that can still happen.
According to the Janesville CC Facebook page, there is still a need for volunteers to help with the event and, as of last week, for amateur golfers to play along side the legends in the tournament. Meanwhile, spectators will have the opportunity to watch the action and interact with the LPGA greats. Tickets are $5 and available at any of Blackhawk Community Credit Union's three Janesville locations.
While Janesville focuses its attention in 2019 on celebrating the LPGA's past, Milwaukee will continue to celebrate its future. The fifth annual PHC Classic, likely to include local stars such as Osceola's Casey Danielson and Edgerton's Allyssa Ferrell, will still be held next week at Brown Deer Park GC in Milwaukee with 144 golfers competing Aug. 9 and 10 before the field is cut to the low 60 plus ties for the final round Aug. 11.