LPGA hopes Solheim showing boosts chances for Tour's return to suburbs
When the short-lived Kellogg-Keebler Classic finally puttered out after the 2004 event, it marked the end of women's professional golf in the suburban Chicago area.
That is until last weekend's wildly successful Solheim Cup at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, where more than 120,000 fans appeared to have quite the time watching the United States team go against the top players from Europe in what turned out to be a tighter-than-anticipated battle for the Cup.
"We all knew there were a lot of golf fans in the area, and you combine that with the patriotic atmosphere and the great golf that we saw and it was the recipe for success," said Kelly Hyne, executive director of the 2009 Solheim Cup. "We knew if we put all the pieces together the fans would really love the event.
"It was everything we had hoped for."
The question now is whether the success of the Solheim Cup can translate into a return of the LPGA to the Chicago area on an annual basis?
"I think it's a definite possibility; we're going to chase down every lead and interest that we have," Hyne said Monday. "With the success of the Solheim Cup it's a great springboard for a lot of companies to be able to understand the value that the LPGA has.
"We'll certainly be having more discussions in the coming weeks, and I think eventually it will happen - that's our goal."
Hyne said now that fans here have been introduced to the players and the product, selling an annual tournament to golf fans in the Chicago suburbs shouldn't be too difficult.
"A yearly event helps build a rapport with fans, and having a field of 144 it gives a greater opportunity to see all of the players on the LPGA," she said. "It's a different type of event so you can't really do a direct comparison, but I think people would find the same fan-friendly atmosphere and would only build on what we started here."
Rich Harvest Farms owner Jerry Rich enjoyed the atmosphere and event so much that he said he'd love the chance to host another in the future.
"Once we have a relationship with a site that hosts the Solheim Cup, it's a lifetime relationship," Hyne said. "Certainly if the opportunity presents itself and all things come together, we would love to look at the option for the opportunity to come back.
"For Jerry, it was a realization of a lifelong dream to see his course on the big stage. For us, too, it was really fun to see it become a reality."