LPGA tour on the way

By Michael Davis

One of the biggest events to come to Henry County, the LPGA Chick-fil-A Charity Championship hosted by Nancy Lopez begins this week at Eagle's Landing Country Club.

Attracting thousands golf fans to the Stockbridge and McDonough areas, the week of amateur and professional golf and activities features some of biggest names in women's professional golf.

Eagle's Landing Country Club general manager Russ Curtis, said depending on the weather, thousands come to the course for the week's play.

"We probably have 70,000 to 80,000 people on a good-weather week," Curtis said.

The event was first held 12 years ago. Sponsored by Chick-fil-A Inc. since 1995, the tournament benefits WinShape Homes, a program created by the restaurant's founder, S. Truett Cathy to find foster parent homes for children.

"In the nine years we've been with Chick-fil-A, we've raised over $5 million for charity," said Sheri Underwood, a tournament spokeswoman.

The professional tournament begins Thursday and will be carried live for two hours a day on ESPN and ESPN 2 through Sunday's final, but pro-am events begin today. Underwood said the event is broadcast into 90 million homes worldwide.

Wednesday, the LPGA will announce this year's Nancy Lopez Award winner?traditionally an amateur player given a spot to compete in the professional tournament. The award was first presented five years ago and the winner is chosen by a panel of 70 committee members.

"They nominate and vote for the world's most outstanding female amateur," Underwood said.

"But our winner this year will not be able to compete because of final exams," she said.

The yearly tournament brings 91 of the LPGA's top ranking golfers to Eagle's Landing, including the league's player of the year for the last three years, Annika Sorenstam, who is also the world's top-ranking female golfer. Other top players at this year's event include Grace Park, Lorena Ochoa, Cristie Kerr and host and hall-of-famer Nancy Lopez.

Underwood said this year's prize purse is $1.6 million, a 20 percent increase from last year's, with a top prize of $240,000 for first place.

"That's the largest in our event's history," Underwood said.

Last year's winner, Se Ri Pak, will be returning to defend her title this year. The Korean star has been in the LPGA since 1998.

Some Henry County residents also offer to become home for a week for the female golfers.

Judy Neal, executive director of the Henry Council for Quality Growth and a resident of The Villages at Eagle's Landing, has hosted her friend Nanci Bowen for the past several years.

"Her father and I used to be Rotary Club together in Tifton," Neal said. "She's totally at home here. She's just like family."