GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Defending champion Stacy Lewis, No. 1-ranked Inbee Park and the rest of the best female golfers in the world are back this week at Stockton Seaview Hotel & Golf Club for the ShopRite LPGA Classic.
The 25th edition of the $1.5 million tournament kicks off today and concludes on Sunday on Seaview’s scenic Bay Course, much to the delight of golfers, volunteers, fans and local businesses.
“It’s that time of year and we love it,” said Absecon resident Leslie Phillips, the manager of Romanelli’s Garden Cafe located about a half-mile north of Seaview on Route 9. “We’re much busier during tournament week than normal. And it’s good for us because it brings in new people. We’ve had fans and even golfers who stopped by for the first time a few years ago and are now regular customers. (Golfer) Michelle Wie was in here on Monday.”
Local businesses and residents have come to embrace the tournament even more since officials rearranged the traffic pattern in 2011.
Route 9 is no longer closed during the weekend, which means cars are not rerouted through the neighborhoods that surround the resort.
“When we brought the tournament back in 2010 (after a three-year hiatus in 2007-09) the number one concern was the traffic,” ShopRite Classic executive director Tim Erensen said. “From a community standpoint, changing the layout of the event so that Route 9 would not be closed was the best move we’ve made. (Galloway Township officials) told me they received one phone call last year about parking and it used to be in the hundreds.”
The ShopRite Classic debuted in 1986 at Seaview, then spent 10 years (1988-97) at Greate Bay Country Club in Somers Point before returning to Seaview in 1998.
A dispute between tournament officials and the LPGA over tournament dates resulted in it not being held in the area for three years. It came back in 2010.
“ShopRite wanted to be here and never wanted to leave,” Erensen said. “When the opportunity came about to bring it back, it was an easy decision. Not only did the Atlantic City area miss the LPGA, but the LPGA missed Atlantic City.”
The tournament has always been a popular stop on the LPGA tour. Some players have stayed with the same host families for years. Some have also been known to visit Atlantic City’s casinos to see a concert and sit down at a blackjack table.
The 54-hole event traditionally draws large crowds, especially for the final two rounds on Saturday and Sunday, and players revel in the attention.
“I’m not much of a gambler, so I try not to go to Atlantic City,” third-ranked Suzann Pettersen said with a laugh. “But this is one of my favorite events on tour. I think I’ve played here every year (except when she was forced to withdraw with an illness in 2011). It’s a good venue and we get a lot of support from everyone.”
Top supporters include the volunteers who do everything from hold up “Quiet Please” signs on each hole, to carry the score cards for each group during the round, to loan out bug spray when the bay breeze is blowing the wrong way and the greenheads come out.
Some have made the ShopRite Classic part of their schedule for years.
Palmyra’s Carol Foell rents a condo in Ocean City every year the week of the tournament and commutes from there to volunteer.
“I’ve worked every one since it started in 1986,” Foell said. “I’ve been staying in Ocean City ever since I was a kid and I saw a small item in the local paper asking for volunteers. My daughter (Stacy Abraham) and I did it the first year as hole marshals and I’ve been back every year since.
“I started as a marshal, then I became a hole captain and then a marshal chairman. I thought I was retired when the tournament left, but when they asked me to come back to work in the media room I said yes. I really enjoy it. From what I’ve heard the players like Atlantic City and I like walking the Ocean City Boardwalk, so it’s perfect.”
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