Serious competitive business begins Thursday, but no matter how they finish the LPGA's golfers are thrilled to be back.

Golfers returned to the open arms of fans with gratitude this week as the LPGA Tour returned to Kingsmill for the first time since 2009. The 72-hole Kingsmill Championship runs through Sunday on the River Course with a $1.3 million purse at stake.

Top-ranked American Stacy Lewis and two-time winner at Kingsmill Cristie Kerr lead the field. Also among the top competitors are 2012 tournament winners Ai Miyazato, Azahara Munoz and Mika Miyazato.

Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Natalie Gulbis, Michelle Wie and Juli Inkster are also set to compete.

Among those missing from the event are money leader Inbee Park and Yani Tseng, the No. 1 player in the world rankings, as well as former Kingsmill winners Karrie Webb and Se Ri Pak.

Ai Miyazato, who is Japanese, finished 9th at Kingsmill in 20009 and 6th in 2007. She is currently among the LPGA's most consistent golfers, is No. 4 on the money list and has won two tournaments this year.

"It's nice to be back here," Miyazato said. "I just love this golf course and missed this tournament really bad. The course is in really good shape.

"The greens are beautiful; the rough is thick."

Kerr has not won since 2010 and said she had a good feeling being back on the River Course.

"Nobody's looked forward to it more than me," Kerr said. "I've got great memories here and I stay with a great family … and it's just a great time. The golf course is one of my favorites, if not my favorite, on tour and I've just got good feelings all around when I come here.

"I want to win really bad. It's getting to the point where it's OK, it's time for one. And I'm doing everything in my power to do it. It's just gotta happen now."

Gulbis, a fan favorite, was among those signing autographs and getting her picture taken.

"I love this place—I love the golf course and I love staying here," Gulbis said. "I've stayed with the same private housing for eight years."

Gulbis played in the Pro-Am Wednesday and then hit the putting green, saying she felt good about Thursday's upcoming first round.

"The scores always tell, but I feel good," Gulbis said. "I'm healthy and I hit it well today."

Hall of Famer Inkster had surgery on her right elbow in January, and said Wednesday that she is winding down for the year.

"Elbow's doing OK," Inkster said. "It's not 100 percent, but it's doing a lot better than it was. I'm just going to play the next couple weeks and take the rest of the year off."

She said the River Course looked very similar to the past.

"They've lengthened a few of the holes but it's pretty much the same," Inkster said. "It's a great golf course. It suits my eye. It's a good ball-strikers' golf course.

"It seems like every day it changes a little bit with the wind. When we played in May, you could get one of those nor'easters coming through."

Inkster won LPGA tournaments in Hampton Roads at Sleepy Hole in 1988 and Greenbrier Country Club in '89.

"I like the golf courses (in Virginia)" she said. "They're old-school, small greens. That's kind of what I grew up on. I've always played well back East.

"We've always had a really good following here and in Toledo, Corning (N.Y.). We do really well in towns like that, where we're the No. 1 ticket."

Lewis, No. 2 on the LPGA money list, was a rookie when she played at Kingsmill in 2009. She said she didn't remember very much about the course, but was optimistic about this week's tournament.

Lewis has won the Mobile Bay Classic and Shoprite Classic this year as part of nine top-five finishes.

"The course is great," Lewis said. "You've got to hit the ball well; I think that's the key.

"You can give yourself some pretty close birdie putts. You've got to hit the ball solid and keep out of the rough."