Mike Nichols likes to tell the story of how title sponsors on the Symetra Tour come to get behind the LPGA Tour's top developmental circuit.
"First of all, you need to have a title sponsor to cover the purse for the tournament; that’s where it all stems from," the chief business officer for the Symetra Tour said during a recent interview with Wisconsin.Golf. "As you can imagine, we get two to three calls per calls per week from people who say: 'We have a great golf course. I’d like to have a tournament.' We say we’d love to come, but we need to have somebody to underwrite the purse so we can get this thing started.
"A lot of times, that’s where the conversation ends."
So call Friday's much-anticipated release of a record-setting 2019 Symetra Tour schedule a reflection of those communities and their sponsors who have — to borrow a golf term — made the cut.
It features 24 tournaments, the most in a season since 1988 and — as previously announced — includes two stops in Wisconsin. The inaugural Janesville Golf Classic, which has yet to announce its title sponsor and is being packaged with a Legends Tour event, will be played Aug. 2 through 4 at Janesville Country Club and will precede the PHC Classic, which makes its fifth annual stop in Milwaukee the following week.
The Janesville event will showcase a unique format, as 30 LPGA Legends Tour members will compete in an 18-hole tournament on Sunday alongside Symetra Tour professionals after the 36-hole cut has been made. A Pro-Am event featuring these LPGA greats will be held on Monday, Aug. 5, following the completion of competition.
The cumulative purse during 2019 for tomorrow's stars of the LPGA is $4 million, the first time in the 39-year history of the former Futures Tour that plateau has been surpassed. This year, at least six tournaments will feature a purse of $200,000 or more, including the first event in Symetra Tour history to offer $300,000 in prize money.
The tournament setting this new standard will be held May 23 through 26 on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Opelika, Alabama, at the Lake Course of Grand National. This venue previously played host to the PGA Tour’s Barbasol Championship from 2015 through 2017. Details for the title sponsor of this inaugural event will be revealed on Friday, March 22 during Bank of Hope Founders Cup week on the LPGA Tour.
Compared to the 2013 season, when the Symetra Tour offered 15 events with $1.62 million in purses, the circuit has enjoyed a 60 percent growth in number of events and a 150 percent growth in purse value.
“The Symetra Tour continues its consistent trend of upward growth, enhancing the opportunity we provide to players from around the world who aspire to play on the LPGA Tour,” Nichols said Friday in a statement. “Not only are we once again raising purses in an effort to attract the best talent, but we continue to upgrade courses in an effort to provide players with an idea of what they will see when they graduate to the LPGA Tour.”
More than 340 players from 45 different countries hold Symetra Tour membership in 2019. Among those golfers with Wisconsin ties to have Symetra Tour status are: former University of Wisconsin golfer Lexi Harkins, Edgerton native Allyssa Ferrell, Osceola native Casey Danielson, Madison native Jessie Gerry, Kohler native Jenna Peters and Waunakee native Lisbeth Brooks.
The top-10 players on the Symetra Tour official season money list will once again awarded LPGA Tour membership. Since 2008, 147 golfers have graduated from the Symetra Tour to the LPGA Tour.
Those who finish between Nos. 11 and 30 on the money list will advance to Pinehurst Resort in Pinehurst, N.C. for the second annual LPGA Q-Series presented by Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. From Oct. 23 through 26, the first week of Q-Series will be played on the George and Tom Fazio-designed Pinehurst No. 6 Course; the second week of competition will be held Oct. 30 through Nov. 2 on the Jack Nicklaus-designed Pinehurst No. 9 Course.
Swan song for Decatur event
When the Symetra Tour arrives at Hickory Point Golf Course in Decatur, Illinois, this June, it will be the curtain call for an event that has hosted what is now the Symetra Tour for 35 of the tour’s 39 years of existence.
“I’ve been adamant that when the time came for Decatur to bid farewell that we do it in a proactive way so that we can celebrate the community’s contribution to the growth of this Tour,” Nichols said. “The last thing I wanted to do was have it end with a press release in the middle of winter. In the near future, we will be making announcements about some special activities to make this an unforgettable week saying not only goodbye, but thank you.”
The 35th annual Forsyth Classic presented by the Decatur Parks District will be contested June 14 through 16.