Excitement high at Symetra

HARRIS – It will be some time before a decision is reached about future tournaments, but the evidence from this weekend’s Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass is strong.

A large crowd was on hand Sunday as the Symetra Tour women’s professional golf tournament concluded, and the excitement level was dynamic as a sudden-death playoff was needed before rookie Kim Kaufman of Clark, S.D., won her first title by beating Mitsuki Katahira of Tokyo.

The Friday and Saturday crowds were smaller, but weather conditions played a factor both days. Sunday the sun finally broke through and the wind was not as stiff, making it more enjoyable for the players and fans alike.

“It is gratifying to see the attendance today and the community support,” said Scott Herioux, chief financial officer for the Hannahville Tribe of the Potawatomi nation that sponsors the event along with Island Resort & Casino, Delta County YMCA and Delta County Chamber of Commerce.

A three-year deal to host the event ended with Sunday’s tournament.

“We will kick it around the next couple of weeks and make a recommendation to the Tribal Council and let them weigh in,” said Herioux.

“It went very smoothly. The (Symetra) Tour staff does a very good job keeping everything on schedule and on pace. And the players sell themselves. It is exciting. The players bring a certain energy and it is a big event. This is a very quality sporting event.”

Sheryl Fish, manager of Tournament Business Affairs for the tour, hopes the council agrees to a new deal and is confident her organization and the players did all they could to help make the weekend a tremendous success.

“We would love to come back up here,” said Fish. “The community support is overwhelming and the (resort) staff is one of the best. The course is the type we want to play, it is in great condition, has a great layout and is one of our players’ favorites, if not their favorite.

“The course is challenging, which is what we want to provide from these type of venues for our players to get them ready for the LPGA Tour. This is world-class golf and the next step is the LPGA,” she said, noting the top 10 players at the end of the 15-event season earn LPGA Tour exemptions.

“So many players in contention provides for an interesting tournament,” she said, noting 26 players were within five strokes of the lead entering Sunday’s final round. The playoff was the fourth in seven tour events this season. “We couldn’t be happier.”

She is impressed with the infrastructure provided by Sweetgrass and Island Resort officials, the throngs of area volunteers who helped everything run smoothly and the media coverage.

“All I’ve heard are good words out of the players’ mouths,” Fish said, which was confirmed in numerous interviews conducted with many of the 144 players. “The superintendent (John Holberton) did a great job getting the course in condition and we really like the way the community is involved with the tournament.”

She noted tourney officials award $100 to a player who gets an eagle and Island Resort donates another $100 to that player’s favorite charity.

Kaufman, who won in just her third Tour start, told the crowd at the trophy celebration “we are fortunate to play a course of this caliber. And it is fun to play in front of (so many) people.”

Vickie Micheau, director of the Chamber of Commerce, was also elated.

“It creates awareness of what we have to offer,” she said, whether it is residents or visitors who get a good impression from the event. “A championship event like this lets as many people as possible know what the area has to offer. The economic impact is significant.

“You can’t spend on advertising for the exposure this tournament gives the area. I give Hannahville (officials) a lot of credit for bringing a high quality event to this area.”