A touch shy of three decades. That's a heck of a run for any sport at one venue.
Kingsmill hosted the PGA Tour for 22 years, the LPGA for seven, all with Anheuser-Busch as title sponsor — the brewery owns Kingsmill. The men's tournament attracted modest fields and occasionally boisterous galleries; the women's event drew world-class fields and mostly sedate crowds.
Alas, when Belgium-based InBev acquired Anheuser-Busch in late 2008, and in a lean economy, a golf tournament became a luxury. So only the hopelessly naïve were surprised last September when the new suits in charge terminated the event.
Wayne Nooe, Kingsmill's director of golf and the tournament's driving force, certainly wasn't shocked, but he's far from pang-free.
"It's really hit that this week isn't normal," Nooe said Wednesday. "The abnormal week we used to have became normal. … It's a little quiet. Other than that, we're doing well. I'm actually getting home before 11 o'clock."
And if Nooe has his way, the grind of running a tournament will soon return. He remains in touch with LPGA officials, establishing ties with a new regime led by commissioner Michael Whan, appointed in October to replace Carolyn Bivens, the tour's first female chieftain.
The LPGA "would love to come back," Nooe said.
Darn right they would. Nooe and his army of assistants and volunteers ran a tournament worthy of major-championship status. The course was challenging, the hospitality peerless, the $2.2-million purse lucrative.
Indeed, if you measure an event by the champions it produces, the Michelob had few, if any, rivals. Suzann Pettersen, Cristie Kerr (twice), Grace Park and Hall of Famers Se Ri Pak, Karrie Webb and Annika Sorenstam prevailed at Kingsmill.
What wasn't to like?
But with Anheuser-Busch InBev attempting to sell Kingsmill, Nooe is in no position to be courting another tournament.
"We really haven't been able to actively or aggressively pursue anything," he said. "Once things get settled at Kingsmill, that's a conversation worth having."
But will Kingsmill's new owner be interested in the LPGA? Able to bankroll a tournament or find a sponsor? Would the resort be better served bidding for a rotated event such as the U.S. Women's Open or Solheim Cup?
After all, the LPGA Tour is not the healthiest of sports enterprises. Long-time sponsors have bailed, tournaments have disbanded and network television coverage remains negligible.
Most striking, the tour has lost its two marquee names. Sorenstam, arguably the best of all-time, retired in 2008, followed last week by Lorena Ochoa — both exited to start families.
But that doesn't discourage Nooe, even as he surveys a River Course without the tents, skyboxes and leaderboards that sprouted each May. In fact, Nooe had lunch Wednesday with officials of the Lions Club, which provided more than 200 tournament volunteers annually.
"Most everyone you talk to," Nooe said, "would like to see another event here at Kingsmill."
Count us among the majority.
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636
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