NORTH PORT--It’s a showcase for the future stars of the LPGA Tour.
The Symetra Tour, the qualifying tour for the LPGA, makes its first stop of the year at Charlotte Harbor National Golf Club with the inaugural SKYiGOLF Championship, March 7-10. The tournament has the second highest purse on the Symetra Tour, offering $250,000 in prize money.
The four day, 72-hole event, SKYiGOLF Championship is the first of 24 events on the Symetra Tour. A deep field is expected to compete on the course designed by Bob Tway, winner of the 1986 PGA Championship, and architect Lee Singletary. The Symmetra Tour is in its 39th year of existence and more than 600 alumnae have gone onto play on the LPGA tour.
At year’s end, the top 10 money earners from the Symetra Tour will graduate to the LPGA Tour, and additionally several other players will come through the qualifying process, said Mike Nichols, Symetra Tour chief business officer.
“There’s a good chance that fans who come out for the tournament will be seeing at least 15 players who will be playing the following year on the LPGA Tour,” said Nichols. “It’s a great opportunity to get up close and personal and see some world class golf. We have players from 45 different countries. It’s really an international sporting event.”
Madison Pressel, whose older sister Morgan Pressel is a two-time winner on the LPGA Tour, will be in the field for next month’s tournament.
Madison Pressel played collegiately at the University of Texas, and owns a win on the Symetra Tour.
“It’s our first tournament so people are eager to get back out to play,” said Pressel. “And with it being our second biggest purse of the year, and having our money list determine who makes it onto the LPGA, it’s a huge factor (in terms) of people deciding who wants to play in this tournament.”
The top 60 players and ties, who make the cut after Friday’s round, March 8, will continue their play the last two days of the tournament. There will be practice rounds Monday and Tuesday. The Pro-am will be on March 6, providing local corporate sponsors and individuals the opportunity to play alongside the Symetra Tour players before the tournament begins.
“It’s really a week long experience,” said Nichols. “It goes back to the fact of the guys at SKYiGOLF, and they came to us and said, ‘we want to make an impact in the world of golf, supporting the young ladies and their dream of joining the LPGA Tour.’’’
When the initial announcement was made that the SKYiGOLF Championship would be the first stop on the tour, it’s purse offering of $250,000 was the highest purse in the history of the tour, it has since been eclipsed, but it’s significant in that it’s offering the second highest purse in tour history, said Nichols.
“It’s going to give some of these ladies a leg up with finances for the rest of the year, which is what SKYiGOLF wanted to do, given the sort of the relationship with the founder of SKYiGOLF, who’s also the owner of a golf course in Port Charlotte.
It made sense since it’s the flagship facility for the SKYiGOLF platforms.”
The tournament lends itself to spectators who will have the unique experience of seeing an outstanding field, on a challenging course, without the huge galleries obstructing their line of vision.
“Women’s golf is so relatable for most amateurs,” said Pressel. “We all love to watch Tiger’s swing at 100-plus MPH...most of the people that are playing can’t quite do that. But they can relate to our game, which I think makes it a little bit more fun for them. They feel like, ‘Maybe I can try something like that. We’re also very approachable.You don’t have to look over people’s heads to see us. You’re going to be close to the action, hole-by-hole. I think this will be a great experience for North Port. I’m really excited to get back and start competing there.”
Charlotte Harbor National Golf Club was selected as a venue because it fit the criteria of the Symetra Tour, and that it was of high enough quality to host an LPGA Tour event, said Nichols.
“We play on first class golf courses that will be of LPGA Tour caliber because as we’re graduating these players to the next level on the LPGA Tour, we want them to have a season under their belt, even though it might not be on the LPGA tour,” said Nichols. “They want to have a season on the Symetra Tour where they’ve had the opportunity to play at first class venues around the country, get used to the idea of travel, working out when they’re not playing their tournament round and getting used to life on tour, so when they graduate to the LPGA tour they’ll be successful golfers.”