FALMOUTH, Maine — If Hannaford Supermarkets wants to put on the Hannaford Community Challenge again next year, and for the foreseeable future, LPGA Legends CEO and former LPGA Tour star Jane Blalock said the players are eager to return.
“I had dinner with a few of the players last night and coffee with Nancy Lopez this morning and everyone was thrilled,” said Blalock on Monday. “They just thought it was a fabulous event, loved the golf course, loved the whole area — the Old Port district, and downtown Portland was fun. As far as the players were concerned, they’d love to come back.”
Sherri Turner can be counted among the happy players, and not just because she won this year’s event — and $30,000 out of the $200,000 purse — for her first Legends victory since 2008 and second overall. The Legends is for former LPGA players age 45 or older.
“It’s like one big party all week,” said Turner. “Everybody is so much looser now, so much more fun now. It’s not a live-or-die situation.”
Getting volunteers and spectators again probably won’t be an issue.
“The turnout [more than 3,000 for the two tournament days] was wonderful as far as spectators were concerned. Not just in numbers, but in enthusiasm,” said Blalock, who also played in the event. “And the volunteers … I heard that we had 47 volunteers call on Saturday night, new people wanting to volunteer because they heard how much fun it was. That’s a pretty good omen.”
Then there’s the site.
“I know Harris Golf [which owns Falmouth Country Club] … has this same week reserved for next year, so we’ve got the one hurdle [cleared],” Blalock added, laughing.
That just leaves Hannaford, but Eric Blom in the company’s Communications Department said there was no timetable yet for the company to talk about doing it again — and not because they’re hesitant. Many staffers who helped put on the event, including Blom, are still calming down from the hustle and bustle of the one they just helped put on, he said.
Blalock thought Hannaford, which is headquartered in Scarborough, was able to get greater Portland energized.
“With Hannaford, what their goal was, they wanted to do something that was special for the community,” she said. “And that’s why they [made] the name the Hannaford Community Challenge. They were challenging the community to get involved, and I certainly think that worked.
“The volunteerism is a very big part of it. And the excitement of the charities and all the spectators.”
Proceeds from ticket sales went to three charities — The First Tee of Maine, the Good Shepherd Food Bank and Big Brothers Big Sisters. Ticket purchasers were able to choose which one of the three received their ticket money.
The First Tee of Maine, whose mission, according to its website, is “to impact the lives of young people by providing educational programs that build character, instill life-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through the game of golf,” became further involved.
Twenty of those boys and girls were included in the first day’s play, participating in their own 18-hole tournament while playing alongside the 40 former LPGA Tour players who comprised the field.
That involvement was a key ingredient for Hannaford, which had been a presenting sponsor for the Handa Cup, a Ryder Cup-style event with American players taking on the rest of the world. That was held in Portsmouth, N.H., the past two years but was being moved to Florida.
So Blalock asked Hannaford if it wanted to have its own event. They liked the idea, but they wanted something different.
“I think they wanted to come up with something that would have some excitement and create something that would have a buzz in the community,” said Blalock. “So we came up with the idea of including the … junior golfers in the actual event, which would encourage families to get involved and really bring a lot of very special attention to what we were doing.”
That format differed from every other event on the Legends schedule.
“That was the special ingredient,” Blalock said. “We know they love our players, the caliber of play, the approachability and … the names. It’s a who’s who. To have that extra ingredient and knowing they could raise a lot of money for some very special charities. It was, like, OK, I think this is going to work now.”
Blalock was impressed with how it all came together.
“I think this, as a first-year event, was fantastic,” she said. “You had Harris Golf, you had the sponsors, the First Tee, you had a lot of moving parts. Was everything perfect? No. Will we make things better next year? Absolutely. But was it great? Yes.”
Even while waiting to see if there will be a second one, Blalock would like to see it be many more.
“Our hope is that this will become a long-term commitment and every year it will get bigger and better and have even a larger field,” she said.