Hundreds of Delaware golf fans will be headed to Ardmore, PA, this weekend for a rare event – a major golf tournament is being played in our backyard. Of course, that backyard looks more like a swamp right now as heavy rains have soaked Merion Golf Club the last few days, with more possibly on the horizon, and that should make for an interesting, albeit soggy, U.S. Open.
Having a major golf tournament nearby is nothing new for us, of course, because the DuPont Country Club hosted the McDonald’s LPGA Championship for 10 years, from 1994-2004. We’re certainly not comparing that tournament with the men’s U.S. Open, which is the most important golf event in the world, but it was a big event in our little state and we gave it our undivided attention and affection.
It’s still hard to believe that the LPGA Championship left Delaware, and not on particularly good terms. The organizers moved it to Bulle Rock Golf Course near Havre de Grace, MD, which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The tournament at Bulle Rock was a major flop at and now it’s being played in Pittsford, NY, which also qualifies as the middle of nowhere.
Not that Rockland, DE, is the center of the universe, but at least it was close to a major city (Philadelphia) and a not-quite-major city (Wilmington) and the LPGA Championship got more attention and made more money here than anyplace else in its history.
And that’s because we take our teams and our events seriously here in Delaware, mainly because we have so few of them. The Blue Rocks continue to draw well, even though they’re not the hot ticket they were 10-15 years ago. And even though the NASCAR races at Dover International Speedway don’t draw nearly as well as they did not that long ago, that’s mainly because out-of-staters can’t afford to follow their heroes all over the country anymore, not because of lack of interest locally.
So, Delaware supports its sports teams/events and it’s still a shame that the LPGA doesn’t pull into Du Pont CC every year like it used to. One thing that made that major event so special is that it wasn’t so major that the golfers became inaccessible to the fans. LPGA golfers are, by far, the nicest and most accessible athletes in the world and more than once I saw a superstar like Nancy Lopez or Annika Sorenstam stop and take the time to talk to kids or sign autographs or enjoy some give and take with the gallery. Try doing that with Tiger Woods.
Maybe we took the McDonald’s LPGA Tournament for granted simply because it rolled into town every year and was successful. We embraced it and hundreds of us volunteered for it and thousands of us roamed the DuPont CC course during and everyone had a great time, including the golfers.
Plus we briefly had a Seniors Tour (now called the Champions Tour, because anyone would rather be called a champion than a senior) event at Hartefeld National Golf Course, where we got to rub elbows with legends like Gary Player and Lee Trevino and even Jack Nicklaus. However, that event didn’t last long at Hartefeld and now we have nothing.
Maybe that’s why everyone around here is making such a big deal of the U.S. Open, beyond the obvious fact that it’s the most important golf tournament in the world and Merion is one of the most historic courses in the world. But it’s also rare now for any golf tournament, much less a major, to be held in the Delaware Valley, even though history shows we will support one. And if some smart promoters took a look at how well we supported those golf events, they would consider giving the First State a second chance.
Contact Kevin Noonan at email@example.com.