Meijer LPGA Classic Brings Professional Golf Back To Michigan

Things are gearing up for Michigan’s first (non-Major) professional golf tournament in years. The Meijer LPGA Classic presented by Kraft will be staged August 4 – 10, 2014 at the Blythefield Country Club in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Founded in 1932, Meijer is credited with creating the superstore concept in 1962. Its stores are primarily located in Michigan, with outlets in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. The chain is family owned.

I remember being astonished at the size of Meijer stores when I first moved to Michigan some some twenty five years ago. Superstores are common now, but back then, Meijer was the biggest retailers I had ever seen. There were some malls that weren’t as big.

imageBlythefield Country Club previously hosted the 1961 Western Open, which was won by Arnold Palmer (right, photo courtesy of Western Golf Association). In a 1991 interview, Palmer compared Blythefield to his home course Latrobe Country Club. Blythefield has also hosted the Western Amateur and the Western Junior Amateur.

In 2005, the Western Junior Championship held at Blythefield featured current PGA Tour star Rickey Fowler.

This will be the first LPGA Tournament in Michigan since the 2000 demise of the Oldsmobile Classic in East Lansing. THE PGA Tour last hosted an event in Michigan in 2009, with the Buick Open.

More in the press release below:

Meijer LPGA Classic presented by Kraft winner to join banner group of Blythefield past champions

GRAND RAPIDS – Arnold Palmer remembers Blythefield Country Club fondly, and in a 1991 interview in Grand Rapids compared it to Latrobe Country Club in Latrobe, Pa., a club he purchased in 1971, and where he grew up as the son of Deacon Palmer, course superintendent and PGA professional.
“I always play a little better on great tree-lined courses like that because I feel comfortable, like at home,” he said. “That was a good win for me, part of a pretty good year.”

Palmer, who then was in Grand Rapids with the Senior PGA Tour, indeed had a great year 30 summers earlier in 1961. His Western Open Championship win at Blythefield was the fifth of six tour wins for the season, and the sixth was his first British Open title at few weeks later at Royal Birkdale.

As his faithful fans in “Arnie’s Army” – described as a large and enthusiastic gallery by local media –followed him around Blythefield, Palmer shot rounds of 65, 70, 67 and 69 for a 13-under-par 271 total. In second place by two shots was fellow golf legend Sam Snead, and Palmer won $5,000. It was his biggest check of the year, one of the largest of his career at that point and even larger than the British Open check.

“I remember I had a really good round to start the Western that year,” Palmer said. “You got to remember, the Western Open was really a major tournament then. Beat Sammie Snead didn’t I? It had a great purse and you were treated so great. Everybody played in it.”

Palmer’s Western Open win is part of Blythefield’s rich tournament history, which will add another remarkable chapter Aug. 4-10 when the Meijer LPGA Classic presented by Kraft is hosted by the historic private club located in Plainfield Township’s Belmont, just north of Grand Rapids.

A field of 144 of the best women golfers in the world will compete over 72 holes of stroke play for a $1.5 million purse.  Visit meijerlpgaclassic.com for ticket opportunities, information and to help the championship benefit food banks and pantries through Meijer’s Simply Give program.

It’s the LPGA’s first stop in Michigan since 2000 when the Oldsmobile Classic in East Lansing ended it’s 9-year-run, as well as the first annual golf event in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula since 2009 when the PGA Tour hosted the Buick Open in Grand Blanc.  The Champions Tour, formerly known as the Senior PGA Tour, had a 19-year run in Grand Rapids that ended in 2004.

The LPGA stars will be walking a course that has changed very little since Palmer won in ‘61, or for that matter since the Western Golf Association’s prestigious Western Amateur was hosted by Blythefield in 1953, and especially since 2005 when the WGA’s Western Junior Championship was played at Blythefield and current PGA Tour star Rickey Fowler dazzled the crowd.

Fowler, known for wearing Puma’s bright line of clothing on the PGA Tour these days, donned a black shirt and white pants for the final round in 2005. His play dazzled, however, when he shot a closing 7-under-par 64 to post a 12-under-par 272 for the one-shot win over David Yujin Chung of Fayetteville, N.C. Fowler, then from Murrieta, Calif., started the final round three shots off the lead.

“I picked a number I thought I had to shoot – it was 64,” Fowler, then 16 told the Western Golf Association communications staff and media. “I just came out and knew what I had to do and did it. It just happened. I hit good shots and made birdies. I knew I had to make more birdies.”
Fowler thanked Blythefield members in the trophy acceptance ceremony and predicted his future accurately.

“I haven’t looked at any schools yet, but I plan to go to college and then turn pro,” said Fowler who six golf seasons later would be a former Oklahoma State golfer named the 2010 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year.

Least known among Blythefield’s gallery of major tournament champions is Dale Morey, though he was well-known in amateur golf circles at the time, not to mention basketball. The Indiana native was a collegiate All-American in basketball and golf at Louisiana State University.
Morey, who died in 2002, is in sports hall of fames in both Indiana and North Carolina. He won four different state amateur titles – Indiana, North Carolina, Kentucky and Texas. The 1953 Western at Blythefield was his biggest amateur win, and he was runner-up to Gene Littler in the 1953 U.S. Amateur. He qualified for the U.S. Amateur an amazing 27 times, and won the U.S. Senior Amateur titles in 1974 and ’77.

As for the ’53 Western Amateur at Blythefield, he made birdies to close like Palmer and Fowler. In the then 36-hole title match he was 8-under-par in 29 holes of play to win 8 and 6 over Dick Norton of East Grand Rapids. That’s right, he had to beat the local favorite. Norton, who later would win the then Grand Rapids City Championship, was a Purdue University co-captain and just 21 years-old at the time.

Birdies down the stretch are sure to be needed when the LPGA plays Blythefield next month. Another certainty, another of the world’s best golfers will join the list of Blythefield’s major champions.

“Having the best women golfers in the world, not just the best golfers in the city or the state, but in the world play here is another great chapter in Blythefield history,” said Patti Butcher, the current general manager and director of golf.

“We’re proud to be the host of the Meijer LPGA Classic presented by Kraft. We’re excited to help bring this to the community and partner with Meijer. It truly is historic.”

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