HARRIS - Sweetgrass Golf Club and the entire Delta County region drew raves last year after the initial Island Resort Championship.
Now planning is starting to kick into gear for year two, with the newly sponsored Symetra Tour visiting June 29-July 1 for the 54-hole women's professional golf tournament. Players will start arriving June 25 for practice rounds, with pro-am events June 27-28 and a junior clinic June 27.
Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame guard Jerry Kramer will be the speaker at the dinner following the June 28 pro-am.
Victoria Elizabeth smiles as she reacts to a drive during a practice round Thursday at Sweetgrass Golf Club. The Dayton, Ohio native tied for 16th last year in the first Island Resort Championship and will return June 29-July 1 for the second edition of the Symetra Tour Road to the LPGA?event. (Daily Press photo by Dennis Grall)
"We felt we had a great tournament with big crowds and great volunteers," tourney co-chair Tony Mancilla said Thursday at noon luncheon. "We have really high goals for our tournament. Our goal is to be the No. 1 stop on the tour."
Tracy Kerdyk, vice-president of New Business Development for Symetra Tour), assured Mancilla his goal has already been met and now it is time to step up higher.
"You have already accomplished your goal," she said. "By far it was the best on the tour (in 2011)."
Victoria Elizabeth, who tied for 16th in the tournament last year, attended Thursday's function and also played a partial practice round. "They set the bar pretty high last year. They will have to set it higher this year," she said.
Kerdyk, who has visited Sweetgrass several times over the past three years, recounted an exchange in the locker area during last year's tournament when several players asked if all 16 Tour events could be held at Sweetgrass.
Kerdyk, a member of the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame and former professional golfer, said the players and LPGA Futures officials were impressed with the community response last year. "They like to feel like they belong," she said.
"These girls are young, they are talented and they are approachable, all the things that make this tour unique. You can come out and engage with these players."
With the first-year response of nearly 2,000 spectators, Kerdyk said "we want this tournament to surpass any other event we have. It is a regional thing. We want to grow the event."
Kerdyk noted that half of the players on last year's Solheim Cup team are graduates of the younger tour as well as two members of the Europe team. "It is the Who's Who tournament," she said of the Symetra.
Elizabeth, who shot 72-71-75 - 218 last year, said. "it is so exciting to be back here. We were so overwhelmed (last year). Everyone was so wonderful. They got the course in really great shape (despite two early days of heavy rain).
"This is my favorite tournament."
The Dayton, Ohio native has played in all three events this year, making two cuts. She is 41st on the money list after finishing 42nd last year.
In an exclusive interview before the luncheon, Elizabeth had a wide smile as she recalled her first visit here last year.
"The whole week, from start to finish, we were treated like royalty," she said, noting spectators and volunteers "were overwhelming and supportive."
Elizabeth, who turned pro at age 17 and played in some events at age 16, will try to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open May 29 in St. Louis. The Open is at Blackwolf Run in Kohler, Wis. July 2-8. She missed a qualifier playoff by one shot last year.
She is eager to return for the Island Resort Championship. "This course sets up for my game," she said. "I hit it pretty straight and somewhat long," then proved that during her practice round Thursday, hitting 1-over-37 on the front side by pounding drives down the middle and hitting solid approach shots.
"You have to think on this course. The greens are pretty tough. You have to hit the right spot and keep it below the hole."
Elizabeth travels by herself, driving her own car to every tournament, relying a GPS system to reach her destinations. She flew to Mexico last week.
"I love the travel, I love the diffferent courses and meeting people. These girls out here are like family, everyone looks out for each other," she said, adding the Symetra staff is "really great."
Although she was on target around the green Thursday, Elizabeth said "my short game needs some work." Noting every round comes down to execution with the putter, she said "my goal is to make it my strength."
Carley Saint-Onge of Marquette, who will play as an amateur again this year, played nine holes in the morning in a steady rain. A red-shirt freshman at Michigan State University this year, she missed the cut at last year's tournament.
She has a busy summer schedule arranged but will not be able to defend the U.P. Ladies Golf Association championship she won last year. The tourney is at Manistique Indian Lake Golf and Country Club July 16-19.