It’s no secret that Sarasota has a rich and storied past – some might even say “love affair” – with the game of golf. Many of the biggest names in the history of the game have roamed the fairways of our area courses and helped contribute to reputation that Sarasota has earned, as one of the world’s best golf destinations.
The early 50’s introduced us to the LPGA with the Sarasota Open held at the historic Sarabay Country Club, displaying the talents of Hall-of-Fame legends Babe Zaharias, Patty Berg, and Louise Suggs. From 1976-1988, Bent Tree Country Club hosted the LPGA Sarasota Classic, bringing the very best of the best to the Suncoast in one of the Tour’s favorite annual events. In what many consider to be the golden years of the LPGA, names like Nancy Lopez, Patty Sheehan, Amy Alcott, Beth Daniel, Judy Rankin, and JoAnne Carner hoisted the trophy here. In recent years, LPGA Tour qualifying has been held at Plantation Golf & Country Club, and Sarabay has hosted the Symetra Tour for the Guardian Retirement Championship, featuring the future stars of the LPGA.
This November, the LPGA Legends Tour will present the 2015 ISPS Hand Cup at the historic Palm Aire Country Club. The Handa Cup is an international team competition featuring 12 American LPGA Legends versus 12 Internationally-born LPGA Legends. Similar to a President’s Cup format, players will compete in modified alternate shot, best ball, and singles matches. The matches, however, are contested in stroke play, which has resulted in tighter competition and more golf, as every single shot counts! Unlike traditional match play formats, which can sometimes end early on the back nine, every last putt must be holed – and in that format, truly anything can happen!
The Handa Cup also marks the return to Sarasota of perhaps the LPGA’s biggest star, Nancy Lopez. Nancy’s impact on the game is undeniable. She paved the way for a mainstream resurgence for the women’s game at a time when the LPGA’s future was in question. What many folks may not know is the direct connection Nancy has to the Suncoast.
“I love Sarasota,” says Lopez. “I have a lot of great memories here – my first LPGA win happened at Bent Tree. I won my 35th there, which got me into the Hall of Fame. I have a lot of good memories in Sarasota. The name Sarasota means a lot to me.”
Lopez will captain the American squad as she did victoriously in 2014. The International team will be led by South African, Sally Little who enjoyed a successful career on the LPGA Tour, winning 15 titles, including two majors, over her 30 year career. Along with Lopez, Little was one of the founding members of the Legends Tour, serving as a founding director. The Legends Tour features a limited number of events each year, so when the players get the chance to square off, you can bet the action will be intense.
Australian legend Jan Stephenson expressed that very sentiment: “We’re more competitive now because we don’t play that much, so it’s fun to go compete again. We want to go out and show how important it is for us.”
Although the captain’s selections were not yet announced at time of press, Team USA has showcased Hall of Famers Lopez, Pat Bradley, Patty Sheehan, Beth Daniel, Amy Alcott, Betsy King, JoAnne Carner, Kathy Whitworth, and victorious 2015 United States Solheim Cup Captain, Juli Inkster. Also eligible to compete for the Stars and Stripes this year are Meg Mallon, Dottie Pepper, Rosie Jones, and Michelle McGann. Team World rosters have included captain Little, Stephenson, Laura Davies, Helen Alfredsson, Liselotte Neumann, and Alison Nicholas. Twenty-three Legends Tour members are veterans of past Solheim Cup teams, and an astonishing thirteen of those have served as Solheim Captains!
It seems only fitting that the Handa Cup will be hosted by Palm Aire Country Club, a club rich in history and tradition. Originally named the Desoto Lakes Golf Club, the course was nationally renowned in the 1950’s and often compared to the likes of Pine Valley, Pinehurst, Merion and Pebble Beach.
Many touring pros were drawn to Sarasota to experience the course, including the club’s first head golf professional, Ted Krall, who was a multiple winner on the PGA Tour and U.S. Ryder Cup veteran. The legendary Jimmie Demaret took the position of “Professional in Residence,” and the both the relatively unknown city of Sarasota along with Desoto Lakes Golf Club were suddenly on the map! The course was featured on Shell’s “Wonderful World of Golf” and the fairways were graced by Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Ken Venturi, and many others.
Over the past 60 years, Palm Aire Country Club has experienced many changes, including adding another 18 holes, and extensive additions to the club facilities and amenities. But one thing remains constant: their commitment to the community and the people that live, play golf in, and love the Sarasota and Bradenton area!
Bringing an international event as prestigious as the Handa Cup to Palm Aire has been a labor of love – in in the works now for almost two years. To see how the club and the community has really embraced the challenge, look no further than the volunteer list, which is now well over 300 names.
Club President, Ed Kornberg says: “With the ISPS Hand Cup and the caliber of golfers it features – the greatest players from the history of the LPGA Tour – we are building on the tradition of competitive golf we’ve established here at Palm Aire. This is a tremendous opportunity for our club and its members, and we look forward to welcoming the LPGA Legends to Sarasota!”
And speaking of community, The Handa Cup has received the full support and cooperation of both Sarasota and Manatee County Sports Commissions. Rumor has it that County Commissioners from both counties will be honorary captains in the pro-am, adding a tournament within the tournament for county bragging rights! The event brings significant economic progress here.
Kornberg adds, “The number of hotel rooms used, the visitors from outside the area, and the impact it will have on Sarasota and Manatee County is going to be huge.”
One of the things that most exemplifies the game of golf and the professionals that represent the sport is the commitment from the top to the bottom to support charities and contribute to society in a tangible and effective way. The pro-am at The Handa Cup is yet another example of this civic commitment, and this year’s event is particularly significant. The main beneficiary is the Special Operations Warrior Foundation (SOWF), an organization that began in 1980 after the daring attempt to rescue 53 American hostages in Iran ended in tragedy when a helicopter and C-130 aircraft collided. Eight souls were lost and they left behind 17 children. A battlefield promise to take care of those 17 children has become the noble cause of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, and it couldn’t be any more fitting that this year’s pro-am falls on Veteran’s Day. In addition to the once in a lifetime opportunity to play with an LPGA Legend, and all the fun and excitement of this special day, pro-am participants can directly help to support our heroes and their families!
Schedule of Events: The action begins on Wednesday, November 11th with the Official Handa Cup Pro-AM, including luncheon, tournament and post-event awards reception. Thursday the 12th, the Legends will hit the course with practice rounds beginning at 9AM and running throughout the day. That evening, the event officially gets under way with the Opening Ceremonies and team match announcements. Competition begins on Friday morning with two different formats, played over the 18 holes. The front nine will be played as team four ball matches, and the back nine features a modified alternate shot format in foursomes. After the round one matches are complete, Saturday’s final round singles matches will be announced. It all culminates with the Championship singles format on Saturday the 14th, beginning at 9:00AM. Team USA will take on Team World in head-to-head battle, with every team member competing for each coveted point. Following the action on the course, both the trophy presentation and closing ceremonies will be held on the 18th green, capping off what is sure to be an exciting and memorable competition!
For more information on the 2015 ISPS Handa Cup, visit www.palmaire.net or check out the official Legends Tour website at www.thelegendstour.com. Tickets are available at various locations throughout the Suncoast, including most golf courses and golf retailers, Evie’s Tavern, and Gateway Bank locations. They can also be purchased online through the Palm Aire website. Tickets purchased in advance are $12 per day or $25 for a 3-day pass. Gate price on the day of the event will be $15, with a portion of all proceeds going to the Special Operations Warrior Foundation. All parking fees collect at Palm Aire will be directly donated to this cause!