The inaugural LPGA Northwest Arkansas Championship presented by John Q. Hammons at Pinnacle Country Club in Rogers on Sept. 3-9 will provide a sizable bump to the area economy.
A purse of $1.25 million has attracted some of the biggest names on the LPGA tour along with local favorite and NCAA national champion Stacy Lewis of the Arkansas Lady’Backs. The field of around 160 players is expected to draw crowds in the tens of thousands.
Andy Bush, vice president of Octagon Worldwide Inc. of New York, the owners and promoters of the event, said it is difficult to estimate attendance for a first-year tournament but he projects somewhere between 40,000 and 60,000 for the week.
The event Octagon operates in Tulsa – won May 6 by NWAC entrant Mi Hyun Kim – is a good comparison and Bush said a starting estimate at the economic impact of the Northwest Arkansas Championship is $10 million to $15 million.
It will also have a charitable impact benefiting the Boys and Girls Club, Northwest Arkansas Children’s Shelter and the First Tee of Northwest Arkansas.
The Golf Channel is televising the three-day tournament and its crew will take up 350 “room nights” at area hotels, Bush said. Add in 2,200 room nights for the players, 400 room nights for tournament staff and those for visitors and there could be easily 5,000 total room nights booked over the course of the week.
Scott Beal, director of sales for host hotel Embassy Suites, said he had a block of 150 rooms set aside in the 400-room hotel.
“It’s a great turnout and a great event for us,” Beal said. “They have some events at the hotel and one big event we are catering, so there is some very important food and beverage revenue for us.”
The normal radius for ticket sales at an LPGA event is around 30 miles, Bush said. For the Northwest Arkansas Championship, strong ticket sales in Tulsa, Missouri and Little Rock push the radius closer to 100 or 120 miles.
“Timing is everything,” said tournament chairman Jay Allen, “and the LPGA is very hot right now.”
And “Bring the Heat” is just what tournament headliner Natalie Gulbis is expected to do. Gulbis, a popular and photogenic player with her own show on the Golf Channel, captured her first career title in France last month at the Evian Masters.
She’s not the only winner from 2007 to grace the field, though. Christie Kerr won the U.S. Women’s Open and Meaghan Francella won the MasterCard Classic in March. LPGA Hall of Famer Se Ri Pak is also entered.
Brittany Lincicome, who turned pro out of high school in 2004 and won for the second time in April at the Ginn Open, will also take part in the event.
The local favorite, though, will be Lewis. Lewis, an Arkansas senior, won the NCAA individual title in May with a closing-round 66 to come back from third place on the final day and also picked up the prestigious Dinah Shore Trophy for her 3.73 grade-point average.
“There is no doubt she is the best female amateur player in the country,” Allen said.
The tournament schedule starts with two practice days followed by a two-day Pro-Am Wednesday and Thursday. The 54-hole tournament starts Friday, Sept. 7.