By Jeff Babineau
BELMONT, Mich. -For LPGA competitors, the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give offers the best of two worlds. The event at Blythefield Country Club just north of Grand Rapids, Michigan, maintains a small-town community ambience, but it comes wrapped inside an atmosphere that let’s players know that something big is going on. Something major.
“I was thinking about this,” Brittany Lang said recently regarding the 72-hole tournament that gets underway on Thursday (June 17) at Blythefield. “It’s such a great place. It has the community feel like our Toledo event (which dates to 1984), and Palm Springs, and Arkansas .
“First off, it’s a great golf course. Then we have the great community feel. They make the players feel welcome, and it’s a great town, as well. It’s nice to be there … I love it, and I have since Day 1.”
The tournament was not played in 2020 (COVID-19), and in 2021 it was the first LPGA event to welcome fans back in full force. Those who attended witnessed a pretty strong show. Ireland’s Leona Maguire, seeking her first LPGA victory at the time, shot 66 on Sunday to keep the pressure on front-runner Nelly Korda, but Korda was able to hold off Maguire to post a two-shot victory.
Korda’s winning total of 25-under 263 – sparked by a tournament record-tying 62 in the third round – established a new tournament scoring mark. Bigger yet, it touched off a magical summer for Korda. Before long, she would own her first major championship, capturing the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, as well as Olympic gold in Tokyo. With her KPMG victory came a new world order in women’s golf. Korda went to No. 1.
Korda had been sidelined with blood clots in her arm that required surgery, but returned at the U.S. Open, where she played well and tied for eighth, and has committed to defend her title at Meijer. Korda’s older sister, Jessica – who has been an Olympic teammate of her sister’s, as well as a Solheim Cup teammate – said she missed having her little sis out on tour.
“Yeah, watching her win Meijer last year was amazing,” said Jessica, who has been slowed by injuries of her own this season. “It was kind of the start of what was an incredible summer, because after that she won KPMG, a couple weeks after that she won the Olympic gold medal.
“Pretty spectacular, and (it) kind of all started at Meijer.”
This week’s field at the Meijer LPGA Classic for Simply Give includes nine of the top 10 players from the Rolex Women’s Golf Rankings (as of June 12), led by Nelly Korda, who is ranked second, U.S. Women’s Open champion Minjee Lee, now a two-time major champion, and Sunday’s winner of the ShopRite Classic, Brooke Henderson. Canada’s Henderson won the Meijer at Blythefield Country Club in 2017 and 2019, and brings some nice momentum into the week.
Jessica Korda said she enjoys the test that Blythefield presents the top players in women’s golf. It’s a thinker’s golf course, with players requiring a smart plan to play it well.
“You’ve got to plot your way around,” Korda said.
Beyond the great test of golf, though, players are attracted to the community feel of the Meijer, and the energy that surrounds the tournament. Many players have been housed by community residents for years, building great friendships and connections to Blythefield and Grand Rapids along the way.
“It’s just a nice feeling that you have a small family to go to rather than just another hotel room … another week, another room, something like that,” said LPGA player Megan Khang, who stays in touch with the family that housed her in her first visit to Meijer. “It’s nice to go back to a little comfort.”
This year’s Meijer has elevated its hospitality experience. It’s called J. Brewer’s, and it will offer premium all-you-can eat food as well as partnerships with some top local restaurants. As a family company committed to enriching lives in its community, Meijer has set a goal to raise $1.2 million for Simply Give, which feeds hungry families, and kicked off the fund with an initial donation of $25,000. Meijer also earmarked $25,000 to the Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association Educational Foundation to support and train future restauranteurs.
Christina Fecher of the Meijer LPGA Communications Team says that in sponsoring this community tournament, Meijer finds itself in a win-win position.
“We get to see the best golf in the world right in our own back yards, but we can do that alongside having great family-focused fun on the course while helping those in need,” Fecher said.
Meijer, a Midwest-based retailer and grocer, has raised more than $69 million through its Simply Give program, with more than $7 million generated through the LPGA event it has sponsored since 2014.
Gates are scheduled to open to the public at Blythefield Country Club beginning with the opening tournament round Thursday morning. For ticket and tournament information, visit MeijerLPGAClassic.com.