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tidewaterreview.com

Kingsmill sparkles in reunion with LPGA

By Ryan Gilchrest, rgilchrest@dailypress.com | 757-247-4673

September 10, 2012

WILLIAMSBURG —

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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.

Kingsmill was in hurry-up mode after the January announcement, which left less than eight months to prepare for the event. It was a challenge both organizationally and financially.

"(There are) a couple of things that I would have liked to have been different," Nooe said. "One, having a little more time to get ready. With seven and a half months, it took a month just to get things organized. And with the announcement of the event being in January, we were already into either a new fiscal year for companies or a new calendar year. Their budgets were already set.

"But those were not options we had. We've been pleasantly surprised. Even with those hurdles, we had a lot of past sponsors that stepped up, we have new support this year that we appreciate, and a lot of those are signed up for next year."

Kingsmill is again on short notice, with the start of next year's tournament less than eight months away.

"It is a short window, but at least we are starting with something," Nooe said. "In January, when we announced the ladies were coming back, we had a monster scoreboard — and that was it. We had no staff, we had no website, no collateral. We didn't even have a name for the tournament."

Good help, good luck

One thing Kingsmill did have left over from the previous incarnation of the tournament was a ready pool of volunteers. Hundreds covered the course throughout the event, doing everything from keeping score to parking cars.

"Our volunteers, over 1,300, showed their support by signing up early," Noee said. "We knew that would happen because we've had so much support from them over the years."

The volunteers couldn't help with the weather, which looked ominous early in the week. The course was already wet from previous rainfall. But other than a two-hour delay on Thursday, the rain stayed clear during tournament hours and Sunday's weather was sunny and mild.

"I'd have loved to have shown a little better Virginia weather for this time of year," Nooe said. "But when you look at what we could have had, to have only had the one two-hour delay, we got fairly lucky."

The bottom line

The damp course played right into the hands of some of the world's best golfers. Soft greens made for inviting targets and scores were low. Shin set a tournament record with a 9-under-par 62 in the first round, and Creamer's 16-under-par score after Saturday's round was the lowest three-round total in the history of the event.

This on a course the players already enjoyed.

"I love this golf course. I always have," Creamer said after the third round. "It reminds me a lot of the golf courses I grew up with in California."

Prior to the final round on Sunday, Ted and Sue Zlydaszek, of Williamsburg, settled their folding chairs into prime spots on the fairway of the 16th hole.

While analyzing the list of final-round groupings of players, Ted Zlydaszek made an off-hand comment about the "girls" playing great golf.

His wife tapped him on the arm with the back of her left hand and gave him a scolding look.

"When they get to this level," Sue Zlydaszek said, "you have to call them women."