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Published: Sunday, 6/28/2009

Farr field helps keep dream alive

The first event in 1984 at Glengarry Country Club (now Stone Oak) - known simply as the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic - had many sponsors to thank on a sign greeting fans. The LPGA is facing tougher times now as 13 events have ceased to exist since 2006. Last year just one player ranked in the top 10 on the tour's money list came to the Farr. But this year it has most of the big names entered. Lorena Ochoa, the LPGA's top-ranked player and winner of two events this year, is scheduled to play at the Farr Classic. The first event in 1984 at Glengarry Country Club (now Stone Oak) - known simply as the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic - had many sponsors to thank on a sign greeting fans. The LPGA is facing tougher times now as 13 events have ceased to exist since 2006. Last year just one player ranked in the top 10 on the tour's money list came to the Farr. But this year it has most of the big names entered. Lorena Ochoa, the LPGA's top-ranked player and winner of two events this year, is scheduled to play at the Farr Classic.
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The voice in the movie said, "If you build it, they will come."

So Judd Silverman built a LPGA Tour stop in the Toledo area in 1984 and for many years they - the top ladies professional golfers - came in droves. And then they didn't. And now they're back.

The 25th edition of the event now known as the Jamie Farr

Owens Corning Classic presented by Kroger, features a "Field of Dreams" this week for Silverman, the tournament's sponsors,

pro-am participants and, of course, the region's golf fans.

A year ago, exactly one golfer among the top 10 on the LPGA money list at the time entered the field. Paula Creamer was rewarded for her participation at Highland Meadows Golf Club with one of her eight LPGA victories to date.

This year, Creamer is expected to be joined by most of the game's big-name players, including five-time Farr champ Se Ri Pak, No. 1-ranked Lorena Ochoa, LPGA Hall of Fame member Juli Inkster, LPGA Championship winner Anna Nordqvist, 2009 money leader Cristie Kerr, player-of-the-year candidate In-Kyung Kim, Michelle Wie, Morgan Pressel, and Natalie Gulbis, just to name a handful.

Lorena Ochoa of Mexico, hits from the bunker on the ninth hole during the first round of the LPGA Championship golf tournament, Thursday, June 11, 2009, in Havre de Grace, Md. (AP Photo/Gail Burton) 
 
s1 28s1ochoa color 4 col x full ... for FARR TAB 
Lorena Ochoa of Mexico, hits from the bunker on the ninth hole during the first round of the LPGA Championship golf tournament, Thursday, June 11, 2009, in Havre de Grace, Md. (AP Photo/Gail Burton) s1 28s1ochoa color 4 col x full ... for FARR TAB
GAIL BURTON / AP Enlarge

"It's certainly nice to have so many stars in the field," said

Silverman, the Farr Classic's founder and director.

It is a flashback to many of the early years of the Farr when top players like Nancy Lopez, Pat Bradley, Amy Alcott, Beth Daniel, Patty Sheehan, Betsy King, JoAnne Carner, Jan Stephenson, Laura Davies, Liselotte Neumann, Meg Mallon, Tammie Green and others would report to the old Glengarry Country Club and, more recently, Highland Meadows on a fairly regular basis.

But it has been hit-and-miss in recent years because of purse and location on the LPGA schedule. Sandwiched between, before or after major championships, complicated by players' travel to popular European tournaments, and with other domestic events offering larger purses, the Farr sometimes became an off-week of choice for too many golfers.

This year is different and it's not just because so many players want a slice of the Farr's birthday cake.

The LPGA Tour is at a crossroads, victimized by a poor economy and questionable decisions, and nobody is sure what the business model will be like when the dust settles.

Thirteen tournaments, including a couple oldies and goodies with histories as long, or longer, than the Farr, have ceased to exist in the last three years. The LPGA Championship, of course, will continue, but without the financial support of McDonald's, which has been the title sponsor for 16 years and has been involved in LPGA events for three decades.

Commissioner Carolyn Bivens willingly severed ties with McDonald's so that the LPGA could own and operate its premier event while improving the purse and the event's TV exposure, but as of this moment it is without a site, a title sponsor, or presenting sponsors for 2010.

Bivens is oft criticized, which seems to neither bother her nor deter the risks she takes. A couple years ago, she took away traditional dates from the ShopRite Classic in Atlantic City, one of the oldest tour events and among the most successful when it came to raising money for charity. The dates instead went to resort and land developer Bobby Ginn, who bought his way in with two big-money events. One lasted three years, the other two years before the economy tanked on Ginn. His events and the ShopRite, which dated to 1986, are all long gone.

This week's Farr Classic is the 14th official event on the LPGA schedule in 2009 and just the 10th to be played in the United States. The PGA Tour, for comparisons sake, is playing its 28th tournament of the year this week at the AT&T National. There has not been a week off on the PGA schedule since the season's first event began on Jan. 8. The LPGA's first full-field event did not start until Feb. 12 and there have been seven open weeks on the schedule since then.

Silverman is sure that's one reason for this year's stellar field in the Farr Classic.

"There has been a lot of money taken off the table for the players," he said. "We're benefiting from a smaller tour. Players have to play."

Then there is this: There are 19 events, including the Farr, whose contracts with the LPGA expire upon completion of play in 2009. This is not coincidence. It was orchestrated this way because Bivens reportedly wanted to boost the association's financial position by making all sponsor contracts uniform with increased sanction fees and with more operating costs being passed to the tournaments.

Then the bottom fell out of the economy and the tour is faced with a lot of tournament officials balking at those increased costs. One, the venerable Corning Classic, which has been on the LPGA's schedule since 1979, held its '09 event in late May and then closed up shop.

How many others might follow suit? It is a question that might be - and darn well should be - weighing on the golfers.

In quotes published during the recent LPGA Championship, American star Kerr said: "I think it's on everybody's mind, and everyone is wondering where the bottom is going to come. We as players have to do whatever we can to try and help those tournaments that are in renewal to tip them over the edge to come back and renew."

Silverman said he was not aware of any push by the LPGA for its top players, who are independent contractors, to patronize certain events this year, but if that's part of the equation he'll take it.

"I think the players need to do what they do best and that's to play and to take care of the sponsors in the pro-am events," he said. "The business side is up to the LPGA and the Tournament Owners Association. With so many tournaments up for renewal nobody wants to be in a position where the numbers don't work. With the economy, everybody's sales are off 20 to 35 percent. Tournaments are slashing expenses left and right to salvage the bottom line.

"If the tournaments aren't turning a profit they're not going to stay in business very long. The challenge is for both sides to roll up their sleeves and agree on a livable business model for both parties - the LPGA and the tournament sponsors."

Silverman said the Farr has "revised our original projections and goals" but that he and his board are "confident this year's tournament will be in the black and raise a significant amount for charity."

As for the future, the Farr is engaged in "ongoing discussions with the LPGA, and it is certainly our intent to continue working with the LPGA," Silverman said. "Right now, though, all our energies are on 2009. There's plenty of time to talk afterwards."

So, Silverman will worry about the future in the future. At present, for whatever the reasons, the Farr once again has a Field of Dreams.

Contact Blade sports columnist

Dave Hackenberg at:

dhack@theblade.com

or 419-724-6398



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