More than a decade after the U.S. Senior Open was played at Caves Valley Golf Club, and five years since both the LPGA Championship at Bulle Rock and the Senior Players Championship at Baltimore Country Club left the area, professional golf will be returning to Baltimore in 2014.
Second-year LPGA commissioner Michael Whan announced Thursday afternoon at the PGA merchandise show in Orlando, Fla., that a new $1.6 million team event -- The International Crown -- will be held at Caves Valley in Owings Mills.
The event will be held every two years and will move to other locations. Rich Harvest Farms Golf Club in Sugar Grove, Ill., will host in 2016.
In a telephone interview with The Baltimore Sun, Whan said that several factors went into bringing the event to Caves Valley -- the support by local fans and club members at the 2002 U.S. Senior Open, the prestige of a golf club that was once ranked in the top 100 in the U.S. by a number of golf publications and websites, as well as the proximity to a number of major media markets.
"We started with the premise that we wanted a world-class venue, a venue that would be viewed not only by the media, but by the players as one of the truly best venues [in the U.S.]" Whan said. "We wanted a venue that has hosted something significant and has done it in a very successful way. We wanted to see a venue that engages their market and their members and the business community and Caves Valley's resume is as good as any in the country."
Along with hosting the 2002 U.S. Senior Open, which attracted more than 100,000 fans a week after a regular Champions Tour event was played at nearby Hayfields Country Club, 21-year old Caves Valley has held a number of prestigious amateur events, including the 1995 U.S. Mid-Amateur, as well as the 2005 NCAA men's and 2009 women's championships.
Whan said he is not concerned with the problems major golf events had in the Baltimore area in recent years, specifically the lack of consistent corporate and fan support at both the LPGA Championship at Bulle Rock in Havre de Grace and the Senior Players Championship at Baltimore Country Club’s Five Farms course.
“In our business, you tend to discount market stereotypes and focus on venues,” Whan said. “When they [Caves Valley] had the opportunity to host something big, they blew it out of the water.”
Caves Valley chairman Steve Fader, a member at the club since 1996, said The International Crown fits into the type of event that has been played there in the past.
“The attraction of this event is how unique it is,” Fader said. “This being an inaugural event, 32 of the best women players in the world, a match play round-robin event, was particularly attractive to us. Will it grow the Caves Valley brand? It certainly will. Is it good for golf? Is certainly is. Is it good for our members? Being a regional and national club, our members have been very supportive of these events.”
After meeting with Whan last summer, Fader said that he went to the club’s board and the response was a “resounding positive [to] go forward.”
Fader said the international aspect of the event should make it an easier sell than other golf events that have not been able to draw corporate sponsorship in the Baltimore area.
Though Fader acknowledges that many companies that were involved in buying sponsorship for the 2002 Senior Open have cut back in the intervening years because of the economy -- the LPGA itself was forced to drop a number of events in recent years after failing to secure title sponsors -- he compares this to more of a “Solheim- or Ryder Cup-type event.”
Whan said that The International Crown can take advantage of the large number of foreign players -- particularly from Asia -- who have dominated the tour the past few years. South Korea has four players currently ranked in the top 10 and 18 in the top 50, while the U.S. has only three in the top 12, eight in the top 50.
“Today the following of the LPGA is so global, there’s 160 countries that watch us on TV,” Whan said. “We go to these countries and see the incredible country pride that goes on. It’s just a different world in the women’s game that gives us not only the ability to do something like this in one tour and to have the world watch but to do it in a way that really works for the players and the tour.”