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In years past, Gary Heminger had conflicting plans when it came to the weekend that northwest Ohio hosted an LPGA tournament.
Heminger, the president and chief executive officer of Findlay-based Marathon Petroleum Corp., had to attend board meetings that were scheduled on the same weekend of what was then known as the Jamie Farr Toledo Classic.
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That changed this year when Marathon Petroleum became the title sponsor of the women’s golf event at Highland Meadows Golf Club.
Heminger was in attendance Sunday at the 18th hole to watch Beatriz Recari win the 2013 Marathon Classic.
“This year, and our plans for the years to come, is that we won’t have any of those conflicts,” Heminger said.
Heminger said his company has a three-year contract to sponsor the Marathon Classic with an option to continue its sponsorship — a partnership that he said the company is likely to continue.
“I’ll tell you,” Heminger said, “what I’ve seen so far, it’s very, very positive we will want to exercise those options. This has been very positive, from what I’ve seen so far.”
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Event organizers announced in January that Marathon Petroleum would become the title sponsor of the event at Highland Meadows Golf Club in Sylvania.
The announcement came several months after LPGA golfer Stacy Lewis, who was born in Toledo, helped broker a deal for a long-term tournament sponsor. At a Marathon corporate event last summer, Heminger approached Lewis and asked her a question: “Why should I sponsor an LPGA tournament?”
“I must have given him a pretty good response, because now we’re at this point here today,” Lewis said last week.
The Blade reported in January that Marathon Petroleum committed to funding for the $1.3 million purse this year, and it agreed to increase it by $100,000 each year during the next two years.
“Everyone sees this as an opportunity to step things up, and that’s our plan,” Heminger said. “We want to take this tournament up to another level. If we’re going to invest to take it to another level, that says we want to be here for a number of years."
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Heminger declined to get into specific details on immediate financial returns for the tournament but said Marathon Petroleum plans to make more fan-friendly investments, including more signage, more bleachers, and a hole akin to the PGA’s Phoenix Open’s 16th hole, where a temporary ampitheater would be constructed for a future event.
Last year, the tournament began hosting “Club 14,” in which the green on the par-3 14th hole is surrounded by skyboxes and bleachers and takes on more of a football atmosphere than a ceremonial mood.
Marathon also sponsors events in the three days prior to the start of the LPGA tournament, including a celebrity pro-am golf tournament.
“The metrics we’re looking at is, how is the community accepting this, how are we reaching the charities we benefit, and there are many different facets,” Heminger said. “We will not measure this on a financial basis.”
While Heminger discussed logistics for future tournaments, Recari was pacing herself through her final round. Recari entered Sunday, the final day of the tournament, tied for the Marathon Classic lead with Paula Creamer.
However, Recari made five birdies Sunday to beat Creamer by a stroke for the tournament title.
“It definitely felt like it had a little match play feel to it,” Recari said. “But I think it was good for us. She birdied, I birdied. We all knew that in order to win, we had to keep on making those birdies.”
While Recari is entered in the Ricoh British Women’s Open next month in Scotland, she may have also gotten a preview of the Solheim Cup. Recari sits fifth in the Solheim Cup’s European team standings. The Solheim Cup is a match-play tournament next month in Colorado that pits the top American women’s golfers against the top European women’s golfers.
“It totally felt like the Solheim Cup for the last two days,” Recari said. “She [Paula] is a very experienced player in the Solheim Cup, and I’ll be a rookie. It was great to play with her, to learn, because she’s so consistent.”
See ya in Kias
Marathon Classic organizers and the Steve Taylor Auto Group said Monday that Lexi Thompson will receive a new Kia Cadenza, a day after she made a hole-in-one on the 14th hole at Highland Meadows.
Thompson and Katherine Hull-Kirk (on Friday) both aced the 14th hole to receive Cadenzas. Thompson finished third in the tournament.
Taylor Kia sponsored the hole-in-one contest for the four days of the LPGA tourney and offered the golfers their choice of cash or the cars.