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International Crown might have opened door to future LPGA events for Caves Valley

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The scoreboards and scaffolding have come down at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, and the venue has returned to its members and corporate clientele.

Yet with the success of the LPGA's inaugural International Crown won by Spain last Sunday, it doesn't seem to be a question of whether the LPGA will return to a club that prides itself on periodically hosting major championships, but when and with what event.

"I would like to see us play whatever we and they want to play here," LPGA commissioner Michael Whan said on the final day. I think this course can hold anything on the LPGA schedule."

Whan said he knew that from the first time he played the course three years ago, when the LPGA International was still more a glimmer than a reality. At the time, there was talk of hosting more of an event among continents than individual countries.

"I called [vice president of LPGA Properties] Kelly Hyne from the 10th tee and said, 'Why are we looking anywhere else? This is where we're going to to play it,' " Whan recalled.

Until the International Crown, it had been five years since a women's professional golf event had been played in the Baltimore area. The last had been the 2009 LPGA Championship at Bulle Rock in Havre de Grace, where it had been held since 2005.

The last major professional golf event at Caves Valley was the 2002 U.S. Senior Open.

Caves Valley officials said they would be interested in hosting either a women's major championship or a possibly a Solheim Cup. There have already been "very preliminary" discussions between the LPGA and Caves Valley regarding the possibility of bringing another major event to the course, according to officials from both organizations who wished not to be identified.

"It's definitely one of those types of courses that we'll see a Solheim at — I have no doubt," said former Women's British Open champion Karen Stupples, who served as an on-course analyst for the Golf Channel during the International Crown.

Since there are no openings on the Solheim Cup schedule until 2021, a more imminent possibility is the LPGA Championship. Starting next year, the LPGA's oldest major will be sponsored by KPMG and will be run in conjunction with the PGA of America.

A PGA of America spokesman said last week that the first co-venture with the LPGA will be held at Westchester Country Club outside New York City next June. The plan is to move to a new site every year, similar to the PGA Championship.

There's a strong connection between the PGA of America and Baltimore. Longtime Hillendale Country Club head pros Bill Clarke and Allen Wronowski each served as president of the PGA of America. Wronowski remains as the PGA of America's honorary president.

Caves Valley would have to present a formal bid to the LPGA to host an event such as the LPGA Championship or a future Solheim Cup.

"We certainly feel very honored to be in that discussion, and we'll think about [making a bid]," Caves Valley chairman Steve Fader said after the awards ceremony last Sunday. "We're always presented with opportunities to host events. They were fabulous to work with. They have a wonderful product as we saw."

American player Paula Creamer said after the top-seeded U.S. team was eliminated in a one-hole sudden-death playoff by South Korea that she doesn't know whether Caves Valley could host a stroke-play event such as the LPGA Championship because of the size of the field and the length and hilly terrain of the course.

But Creamer and others said Caves Valley sets up as a perfect venue for the Solheim Cup.

"This is an awesome match-play course," Creamer said. "I couldn't see a full field [event] out here. I don't think we would get around very fast. … The pins, the way that they set it up, was great for best ball. It would be a little more difficult for alternate shot. The rough was penalizing. The greens were tricky. The format we played, I think it would be perfect for that."

Said Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez, who was at Caves Valley last weekend, "I think it is a course that would be tough enough for match play. You can go for it and you can mess up and just lose one hole. … It'll be tough to walk, but it's a great golf course for shot-making."

After walking the back nine, the long-retired Lopez joked, "I kind of wanted to get out there and hit a few shots, that's how good I think it is."

Lopez said it is also a good course for spectators.

"There are a lot of places to look down and watch the players from above," Lopez said. "To me, at some of the Solheim Cup courses, the galleries have struggled to watch golf."

As the LPGA moves on to Rich Harvest Farms outside Chicago for the second International Crown in 2016, Fader and others at Caves Valley now can exhale.

"We'll get this digested, we'll sit back as a club with our membership and our tournament chairman [William Jews] and the chairs of the committee who did huge amounts of work and you want to debrief with them," Fader said. "What went right ? What went wrong? What could we do better?"

Whan said response to the International Crown from the corporate community will likely make the LPGA look seriously at the Baltimore area in the future.

"When and where we'll be back here, I don't know, but I'm sure there's a lot of other courses and sponsors taking note of what's going on this week on TV," he said.

don.markus@baltsun.com

twitter.com/sportsprof56

Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Dodson contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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