LearJets, limos and appearance fees? Those perks are only for the very top of the 1 percent of golfers capable of competing professionally. The rest of the Tour “stars” pay their own way flying maybe in comfort or driving between tournaments by car.
Connecticut native Mike Sweeney, in fact, lived out of his Hyundai showering at gyms while traveling and trying to earn his first penny in professional golf. When his car “cowabunga” died it was couch surfing and fleabag hotels. Until one week, after fronting his nest egg of $500 to enter a mini tour event qualifier in Alabama, he holed out from a bunker for an eagle on the last hole to reach a playoff for the tournament’s last spot. And he eventually claimed it.
A spot in the event was still no guarantee Sweeney would earn a nickel. Even though he made a “Cinderella story-style” hole-in-one on the second hole of the tournament, his subsequent scores sent him home to a cart barn penniless when he missed the cut.
It will be a much warmer welcome for the professional women golfers. For the 10th year, they will return to Battle Creek Country Club to compete in the EPSON Tour’s FireKeepers Casino Hotel Golf Championship…a circuit known as “the Road to the LPGA Tour.” The tournament competition is Friday, June 9 through Sunday, June 11, but there are multiple events including practice rounds, a pro-am and player access for fans during the three days before.
The Vegas-style casino and hotel are buzzing that week for fans, and the red carpet is specially rolled out for the visiting players. FireKeepers invites Battle Creek residents to volunteer to host these amazing athletes by opening up their homes giving them a wonderful opportunity to get to know the players during tournament week.
“Families help them feel at home and part of a family while they are on the road,” said FireKeepers’ Michelle Richens. Returning players often stay with the same families year after year and form close friendships with their hosts.
Many of the tour players come a long way along the competitive road less traveled from their faraway homes across the globe. Past winners and competitors seeking a share of the $200,000 prize fund have traveled from China, Mexico, Taipei, Spain, Belgium, South Korea and Canada. Plus, of course, from across the United States.
The 2022 champion was 17-year-old Xioawen Yin, from China. She secured her first professional win, defeating Gina Kim in a one-hole playoff. Now just 18, Yin is the youngest EPSON graduate to the LPGA.
Even Battle Creek Country Club’s lakefront golf course was designed by a traveler – Scotsman Willie Park Jr. in 1919.
By the time the EPSON Tour reaches the charitable FireKeepers Casino Hotel Championship in Battle Creek, the women have driven to compete in three months of tour stops at golf venues in Florida, Arizona, California, Utah, Kansas, and North Carolina. And let’s face it, while these are “business trips” for these professional golfers, some of the tournament sites have a little more “pizzazz.”
“It’s true at FireKeepers we’re proud that each year we are voted the best pro-am party by the EPSON Tour players,” said Jim Wise the casino hotel’s vice president for marketing.
Each year FireKeepers presents other creative wrinkles for fans, too. Last year it was a Family Fun Night at Battle Creek Country Club. Sometimes spectators get to shoot golf balls at targets floated out in the lake. Attending the golf tournament is free. Attendees get to see and take selfies with the snazzy pace car for the annual FireKeepers 400 NASCAR race at Michigan International Speedway – this year on Sunday, August 6.
Like the FireKeepers Golf Championship, there are pre-race events all week at MIS and at FireKeepers Casino, including the opportunity to meet and greet last year’s winning race car driver Kevin Harvick on August 4 at the casino property.
“Race fans are extremely devoted and love to meet the drivers, said Wise. “They bring replica cars to get autographed and one year a man even dragged in a race car tire to get signed!”
FireKeepers Casino Hotel stages two of Michigan’s most traveled to spectator sporting events each summer. And for those who love to watch on television, the casino’s Dacey’s Tap House and Sportbook has big screens for watching sports plus booths and kiosks for wagering on games around the world. The FireKeepers Casino app also allows for handheld sports betting for users inside Michigan.
Contact Michael Patrick Shiels at MShiels@aol.com His radio program may be found at MiBigShow.com or weekday mornings from 9-noon on WJIM AM 1240