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Monday, March 1, 2021

Remembering The Heyday Of The McDonald's LPGA Championship

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Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan has covered and commented on the Delaware sports scene for more than 30 years, everything from amateur recreation leagues and high schools to local colleges and the Philadelphia professional teams. He’s been voted Delaware Sportswriter of the Year multiple times and currently covers the Philadelphia Eagles for CBSSports.com and teaches creative writing courses at Wilmington University.

I had stopped by my father’s house after a long day of covering the McDonald’s LPGA Tournament and was telling him (OK, whining to him) about all the articles I had to write and how much I had to run around to track down interviews and on and on.

 

This man, who had lived through the Great Depression and stormed Omaha Beach on D-Day, didn’t say a word as I finished my rant. Then he quietly said “Oh, so you had a tough day at the country club, huh?”

 

Never have I been put in place so quickly and so thoroughly. And I was thinking about that incident recently when I drove past DuPont Country Club and remembered what used to be.

 

It’s hard to believe it’s been six years since one of golf’s premier events was held annually at DuPont CC. From 1994 to 2004, the McDonald’s LPGA Championship was the highlight of the Delaware sports and social calendar and we looked forward to it every year, even though it meant tough days at the country club. And the real reason it was special is because it was ours.

 

In Delaware, we have to root for other people’s professional teams, mostly from Philadelphia and Baltimore and Washington (never New York, of course). But the McDonald’s LPGA Championship belonged to us, just like the Blue Rocks belong to us and, to a lesser extent, the NASCAR races in Dover belong to us. And since we don’t have much, we’re very, very possessive about we do have.

 

Or, in the case of the LPGA, what we had. Of all the big-time local sporting events in which we took pride, the McDonald’s LPGA Championship was No. 1. As much as Delaware supports the Blue Rocks, who are among Class A leaders in attendance every year, their roster is filled with kids we never heard of before and most likely will never hear of again. Plus they’re only here for a year or two at the most, so we don’t grow much of an attachment to them.

 

And even though the NASCAR races at Dover have the biggest crowds and do more to boost the economy than any other sporting event in Delaware, most of those big crowds are from out of state. And no matter where they’re from, the fans at Dover International Speedway are far removed from the action on the track and they have, at best, limited access to the drivers.

 

The McDonald’s LPGA Championship was different. Since it was a major, the very best in the sport were here every year and we got to see them up close and personal, even the superstars like Nancy Lopez and Annika Sorenstam. For four days, you could stand within a few feet of the best players in the world and no athletes in any sport are more gracious and accommodating to fans and media than the women of the LPGA Tour.

 

Last, but far from least, there were thousands of local volunteers who worked at the McDonald’s LPGA Championship year after year after year, and this was really their tournament. Plus many of the golfers stayed with local families year after year after year and a bond developed that you just don’t see in other professional sports.

 

Then, just like that, it was gone. The LPGA’s departure wasn’t quite like the Baltimore Colts sneaking out of town in the middle of night on their way to Indianapolis, but Delaware felt blindsided and betrayed when the news broke in 2005 that the tournament was moving to Bulle Rock Golf Club in Havre de Grace, Md.

 

The two men who brought the tournament here were also responsible for it leaving, but it’s hard to say anything negative about Herb Lotman and Frank Quinn, whose tournament raised more than $46 million for the Ronald McDonald charities. Still, their decision to move to a club in the middle of nowhere – in large part because Bulle Rock is owned by a friend of theirs – was a disaster. The tournament didn’t raise nearly as much money as it did at DuPont and, worse, nobody seemed to care about it anymore.

 

When it was at DuPont, the Philadelphia media covered it as a local event and the Wilmington media treated it like the Second Coming. The Baltimore media also had a presence. But when the tournament moved to Bulle Rock, the Philadelphia and Wilmington media didn’t give it nearly as much coverage and even the Baltimore media continued to treat it like a minor-league event.

 

Now the tournament is owned by the LPGA itself and McDonald’s is no longer affiliated with it. The LPGA Championship is now held in a suburb of the booming metropolis of Rochester, N.Y.

 

Some people dream the LPGA will return to Delaware some day, and we would still seem to be an ideal location, since we have world-class courses, are close to major media markets and have a track record of enthusiastic support. And there’s no question Delawareans would once again embrace the LPGA, even if it would mean more long days at the country club.

 

Contact Kevin Noonan at knoonan32@aol.com.

 

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State expects shipment of one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, maybe by week’s end

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only one dose, unlike the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which need two doses.

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