In early April, representatives of the City of Garden City, Finney County Convention and Visitors Bureau, along with representatives of the Symetra Tour, announced that the Garden City Classic would be played in mid-September at Buffalo Dunes Golf Course.
It was to be the first women’s professional golf tournament not only in Garden City, but in western Kansas.
For its impact on Garden City and the area golfing community, The Garden City Classic was voted the No. 9 Telegram Sports Story of the Year by the GCT sports staff.
The Symetra Tour one level below and the proving ground to eventually land a spot on the Ladies Professional Golf Association’s tour.
Only the Southwest Kansas Pro-Am, an annual August event for men’s professional golfers, had previously been played in Garden City, that also using The Golf Club at Southwind.
The Garden City Classic proved to be a highly successful event, bringing in 144 players in the Tour’s final event before its own Tour Championship event a week later in Florida.
The 54-hole tournament, played in unusually bitter chilling temperatures and windy conditions, provided a tough test for the women’s professional field, yet they steadfastly showed their skill level throughout the three-day event.
When the final putt was made on a chilly Saturday, it was 19-year-old Taiwanese Min Lee who walked away with the $15,000 winner’s check.
The rookie player shot rounds of 70-71-69 to finish at 6-under-par on the tough Dunes layout, which was good enough for a one-shot triumph over Australian Rebecca Artis and Canadian Jessica Wallace.
It was a tense finish to a stellar three days of competition, as the talented field was challenged by the narrow fairways, dense rough and speedy greens at the Dunes.
There was a 36-hole cut and it came at 7-over-par 151, with 71 players advancing to the final round on Saturday. Temperatures hovered in the mid to upper 40s during Friday’s second round, which also started with a light mist in the early morning to further make conditions difficult for the players.
Lee said she was thrilled to come away with her first victory, which assured her of earning a top 10 finish for the season money list and a spot on the 2015 LPGA Tour.
“I think I grew up a little bit,” the teenager said during the awards ceremony. “I stayed patient. It was so windy, so cold early. It’s all about the mental.”
Early economic impact numbers indicated the tournament brought in roughly $150,000 to $200,000 into the Garden City and Finney County business community. The CVB also estimated that there were 833 overnight guests, 100 day trippers and 942 locals who were in attendance at the event.
“It was well-received,” said Buffalo Dunes head professional Cole Wasinger, who served as the event’s chairman. “We had good attendance. I know a lot of hotels got some business from it.”
The area business community supported the Classic with solid sponsorships, and a big pro-am with both morning and afternoon groups, played on Wednesday. Amateurs were paired with one of the Symetra Tour players for an enjoyable round.
Wasinger estimated that roughly $250,000 in sponsorships was raised, with the CVB contributing $50,000 in the first year.
Players were treated to a reception at the Crazy House with a western theme. There were several dinners and other events connected to the tournament, all of which provided both local and visitors a good experience.
“I think what I loved most about what happened during the event was all of the feedback was so positive,” CVB Executive Director Kim Inderlied said at a follow-up meeting in early October. “The volunteers had a terrific time. It looked so professional out there.”
“The flags, the tents. It just all looked amazing.”
The Symetra Tour and the local organizing committee has made a three-year commitment to bring the tournament to Garden City for 2015 and 2016. The 2015 event will be a week later and will have a Friday-Saturday-Sunday schedule, thus increasing the likelihood of bigger crowds. A double-decker grandstand was installed behind the par-3 17th green, and sponsors could sit in luxury seats and watch the action.
On the final day, the CVB provided $100 to each player who made a birdie on the hole. There also was bonus money paid out for the most birdies in each of the three rounds. There was quite a bit of fan participation, which made for a distinct experience for the players. It was the first time a Symetra Tour event had such a setting for its players.