Kingsmill sparkles in reunion with LPGA

Verdie Medford was back at her old haunt Sunday.

Perched atop a knoll overlooking the 18th green on the River Course at Kingsmill, Medford soaked in the morning sun and cool breeze as her infant granddaughter Hannah played on blankets spread out on the still dewy grass.

The Newport News resident and her husband Edward — who volunteered as a scoreboard operator for a portion of the week — were pleased to be back on the course after a three-year absence for women's professional golf on the Peninsula.

"The course is wonderful, the area is wonderful," Medford said. "I just love to sit down here."

The tournament was a Mother's Day tradition for Medford until the course was dropped from the LPGA schedule after the May 2009 event. When the tour's return to Kingsmill was announced in January, May was too ambitious and a September date was chosen. The event will return to its traditional month in 2013, though the May 2-5 tournament dates put it a week ahead of Mother's Day.

The LPGA Kingsmill Championship was expected to wrap up Sunday evening, but Paula Creamer and Jiyai Shin, tied at 16-under-par at the end of the final round, and remained tied after eight playoff holes as darkness fell. The playoff will resume at 9 a.m. Monday.

"We'll be right back out here in May next year," Medford said.

Attendance up

Officials with Kingsmill and the LPGA are counting on those plans, and the attendance figures for this year's event are a positive indicator.

Final attendance for the tournament wasn't immediately available following Sunday's round. The course announced Thursday's crowd at more than 10,000, setting a new opening-round attendance record for the tournament. Friday's ticket sales surpassed Thursday, according to a news release from the course.

Wayne Nooe, Kingsmill's director of golf, said the largest increase over previous tournaments was in advance ticket sales. Nooe attributed the success to ramped-up promotional efforts, both in the media and through special events.

"We've had great ticket sales, we've had good crowds. I think we're going to have a tremendous crowd here today," Nooe said midway through the final round. "I think the excitement in the community that the ladies are back, and I think if you look at the support we got this year on a very short window — only seven and a half months — to me is probably the most exciting thing."

Tourism draw

The support appeared to extend beyond the local community. Bill and Pat Balicki drove more than 300 miles to be at Kingsmill for the third and fourth rounds.

They spent the weekend at a local time-share condominium, "something creek," Pat Balicki said when asked to recall the name. She was pulling for Paula Creamer on Sunday, but her favorite player is Michelle Wie, who missed the cut. The retired couple, Massachusetts natives who now live in Myrtle Beach, S.C., enjoy attending LPGA tournaments.

"The girls don't whine the way the men do," Pat Balicki said.

The Balickis staked out their seats early Sunday morning — well before the first group of golfers arrived — on a picturesque, if breezy, high point overlooking the 17th hole and the James River. Bill Balicki had the spot picked out before the couple pulled out of their driveway.

"We didn't come until (Saturday), but even Thursday we watched it on TV and he's been saying the 17th hole," Pat Balicki said.

No easy task

The tranquillity of the 17th hole and the rest of the River Course, with its undulating fairways punctuated by woods and wetlands, belies the energy and effort required to run the tournament.