The cheers and roars will be back at the ShopRite LPGA Classic this year.
Fans will be permitted to attend the 33rd edition of the tournament at Seaview Hotel and Golf Club’s Bay Course on Friday through Sunday after not being allowed last year because of COVID-19 restrictions.
That means a lot to the golfers, organizers and spectators.
“It means everything to us,” Tournament Director Bill Hansen says. “It just didn’t feel right last year without the fans. It was kind of odd not having anyone there.”
The spectators are what make the tournament the area’s premier sporting event.
Fans from throughout the Northeast make the trek to Galloway Township for the event, starting with a two-day, 300-person pro-am on Wednesday and Thursday that’s the largest on any of the professional golf tours.
Thousands more line the fairways and pack the grandstands at the 18th hole to watch the best women’s golfers vie for a $1.75 million purse.
While the area has hosted its share of major sports contests, such as world championship boxing fights, the ShopRite Classic is easily the most popular and profitable event. According to a statement on the tournament website, a study conducted by the Lloyd Levenson Institute of Gaming & Hospitality Tourism said the tournament crowds create an estimated $19.2 million in new economic activity touring the three days of competition.
There’s also the publicity created by the TV broadcast. The ShopRite Classic is shown on Golf Channel and goes out to over 500 million households. Atlantic City’s epic skyline and beaches are frequently featured during the broadcasts.
The tournament will be making broadcast history this week. The Golf Channel commentary team will feature Cara Banks, Judy Rankin, Paige Mackenzie, Karen Stupples and Kay Cockerill, marking the first all-female broadcast team in U.S. television history.
The tournament got its start in 1986 at Seaview as the Atlantic City LPGA Classic under the guidance of Larry and Ruthie Harrison. Hall of Famer Julie Inkster won the inaugural event at 4-under par. The purse for the event was $225,000, with Inkster earning $33,500 for the win. Two years later, the tournament was moved to Sands Country Club, which is now known as Greate Bay Country Club, in Somers Point, where it was held for 10 years (1988-1997) before returning to Seaview in 1998.
It’s been called the ShopRite LPGA Classic since 1992.
A conflict over dates between tournament officials and the LPGA caused the tournament to not be held for three years (2007-09), but it returned in 2010 behind ShopRite Classic Executive Director Tim Erensen and Hansen.
The tournament has featured an interesting mix of champions.
Inkster is among 16 Hall of Famers to have played in it, along with Pat Bradley, JoAnne Carner, Beth Daniel, Laura Davies, Sandra Haynie, Betsy King, Nancy Lopez, Meg Mallon, Lorena Ochoa, Se Ri Pak, Patty Sheehan, Annika Sorenstam, Jan Stephenson, Karrie Webb and Kathy Whitworth.
Davies, who lost a playoff to Ann Marie Palli in the 1992 tournament, is scheduled to play this week.
And thousands of fans will be there to watch.