LPGA event could put Baltimore back on golf map

International Crown at Caves Valley Golf Club could show area's untapped potential

Cal Ripken, Jr., helps 4 members of the LPGA crack crabs at Phillips Seafood on Pratt St. They were in town to promote the inaugural LPGA International Crown, that will take place on July 24-27, 2014 at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills.

There is no near-term downside to the Baltimore area enjoying a week at the center of the golf universe in late July.

The inaugural LPGA International Crown, which will bring together 32 top women from eight countries for a new-concept team competition at Caves Valley Golf Club, is going to be a major event with significant global reach.

And we're not even going to have to tear up any light rail tracks or turn downtown into a traffic nightmare to make it possible.

There are no major infrastructure issues like the ones that made the Baltimore Grand Prix such a tough sell and there is nothing to boil the blood of local commuters and jilted business owners — just a classy showcase event at a classy location that will show off both Baltimore City and Baltimore County to millions of potential visitors worldwide.

If there is any question about the local impact of the tournament, it is more about how it might affect the possibility of future golf events landing here.

In other words, does the International Crown put the Baltimore area back on the golf map, or just on the spot?

There have been big golf tournaments in this part of the Mid-Atlantic region before, including major LPGA and Champions Tour events, but Baltimore never has really established itself as a top-tier golf destination. Though this tournament will land next in Chicago in 2016, it still provides a golden opportunity to upgrade that image.

Clearly, the fact that the LPGA chose Caves Valley for a new international tournament — which it hopes will become one of its signature events — is an indication that it believes there is significant untapped potential here.

"This is a world-class sports town,'' Kraig Kann, the LPGA's chief communications officer said at a media event Monday at the Inner Harbor. "I think it's actually just the right size for the LPGA. It's not so overwhelmingly huge to stage a first competition like that, that it maybe gets swallowed up with other things going on. At the same time, it's quaint and small enough that it will feel like a real community-type event. I think it's all positive."

The departure of the Grand Prix notwithstanding, Baltimore has been on a bit of a roll with its biggest sporting events. M&T Bank Stadium just hosted the NCAA men's lacrosse final four, and this year's Preakness Stakes drew a record crowd (123,469) to watch California Chrome capture the second jewel of horseracing's Triple Crown. The fall and winter will feature several marquee college football games alongside the Ravens schedule, including the Army-Navy Classic on Dec. 13.

"Are they on the spot here in Baltimore?'' Kann said. "No, they're not on the spot. They know what to do with sports events. I think everybody will come out here and show the game of golf what this town has to offer and they'll show the players what they have to offer in the form of hospitality. The PGA Tour has been here before, obviously. The LPGA Tour has been here before, obviously. This is a big-time event."

Tournament director Rich Thomas agrees. He said he's confident that the International Crown will get solid fan support here and have a very successful launch.

"There's a proven track record in this city for golf tournaments,'' he said. "I think what we're doing is a little bit different and the community has really supported us so far. We're excited to see who comes out. I think this is going to absolutely showcase what a great golf town Baltimore is.

"We're really proud of what we're doing and, obviously, when you have the 32 players we have in the field, there's really no way we can screw it up. These players are superstars. They are our best people and they will ensure that this will be a successful event."

While a big tournament can be a tough sell to the membership of some elite country clubs, tournament chair William L. Jews said members at Caves Valley recognize what this event could mean to the region.

"I think it highlights a unique opportunity for Baltimore, the county and the state to demonstrate that we are a diversified community looking to engage events like this,'' Jews said. "If we're successful, which we will be, at sort of being the trailblazers here, it'll bode well for this tournament going to Chicago and subsequent times in the future. I think it's a real opportunity for us to be in this place of leading it as opposed to being in the position of saying we're on the spot. I don't think we are. I think it's a great opportunity."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" on Friday mornings at 9 on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

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