The LPGA's brand-new International Crown match-play tournament is still a year away, but the preparations have already begun at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills. The event's organizers brought four bright young stars from four participating countries to play the course and meet the local media on Monday.
Hopefully, it will be a little less humid when the LPGA assembles eight four-player teams to compete under their national flags in late July of 2014, but the players spoke very highly of the course and the tournament's unique concept.
"To actually be on a team and get to compete together and represent your country, that's just an honor in itself,'' said American Gerina Piller, who was 48th on the LPGA money list in 2012. "And to be crowned international champion would be pretty cool."
The LPGA came up with the format to compliment the biennial Solheim Cup, which pits the United States against Europe in the women's equivalent of the Ryder Cup. The International Crown is the logical response to the call for a high-profile international competition that includes the top women from more of the world's golf strongholds.
"It's something that we spent three years developing,'' said tournament director Rich Thomas. "Really wanted to get it right. Everybody always asks us 'Why don't you have a Presidents Cup-style event – USA versus the rest of the world that's as global as our tour? We wanted to expand on it further and it became country versus country because, while it's great how the Ryder Cup is set up and the Solheim Cup is set up, there's something to be said about carrying your own flag and a bag with your country flag on it and not a bag that says 'the rest of the world.'
"We took a lot of time and put a lot of effort into getting it right and making it feel special for the Australians, the Koreans and a lot of the different Asian countries."
Australia's Sarah Jane Smith can speak to the fact that so many great players have been left on the outside looking in
"To be honest, I've been a little jealous of Solheim,'' she said. "It's something that I always thought would be so great to be a part of, and I just think it's such an amazing experience to have something where I can represent my country as a professional. This is such a unique experience that I really hope I'll be a part of it."
South Korean star I.K. Kim hopes so, too, as she will face very stiff competition for one of the four spots on what probably will be the favored team next year.
"That's not something new to me,'' she said. "We all grew up together and have been competing with each other and it's always been that way. Whoever makes the team, I think we're going to have a great team, obviously, for the most part, I think we're looking forward to playing this format…I think it's a great opportunity for all of us to really play for something bigger than ourselves and also giving this opportunity to the future generation."
Sweden's Pernilla Lindberg was not playing Caves for the first time. She competed here in the 2009 Women's NCAA Championships.
"People tend to ask me what's my favorite golf course,'' Lindberg said. "I say it's always a hard question because it could be a great golf course and if you don't play good, you're not going to like it. And, the other way around, if it's a place where you play good you're going to love it. I have really good memories of 2009 here. I played really good back then. I finished third individually at the NCAA championship. Because of that, I have really good memories from here and really like this place.
"So when I heard this tournament was announced here. I was very excited about the chance to come back here and it was just as beautiful today."