LPGA great Annika Sorenstam chats at a Lancaster Country Club event to kick off the countdown to the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open. (Jeff Ruppenthal / Staff )

Open season begins: Countdown for 2015 U.S. Women’s Open gets rolling with Lancaster Country Club event

Posted: May 14, 2013 9:58 pm

Perhaps for the first time Tuesday, the U.S. Women’s Open coming to Lancaster felt like more than words.

Three-time Women’s Open champion Annika Sorenstam and Mike Davis, the executive director of the United States Golf Association, played a round of golf and appeared at a luncheon at Lancaster Country Club with club members, event sponsors and media members.

The Open, which Davis called “the biggest event in women’s golf worldwide,” will be held in July 2015 at the William Flynn-designed course along New Holland Pike east of Lancaster.

The event will be televised nationally by NBC, broadcast in more than 50 countries and contribute between $15 million to $20 million to the local economy, according to event officials.

The course is regarded as a gem by golf architecture buffs and has hosted numerous state and local events, but never before a national championship.

“I love the golf course,” Sorenstam said. “It’s a great design, a true design classic. As far as the (condition), are they playing next week?”

The place is ready, was Sorenstam’s point. It’s still 26 months away but, as Davis said, “It’ll be here before you know it.”

Sorenstam is arguably the greatest women’s golfer of all time, with 93 wins, 10 major championships including three U.S. Opens.

But she retired from competitive golf more than four years ago, and stays involved with the game as a course and clothing designer, with a weekly appearance on The Golf Channel’s “Morning Drive,” talk show, through her golf academy and her foundation, to which Susquehanna Bank announced a $25,000 donation Tuesday.

“I don’t get on the course more than 12 times a year now,” she said, although she did participate in the Lancaster General Hospital outing at LCC on Monday.

Sorenstam shot 74 Tuesday, 4-over par.

The course will play from 6,600 to 6,800 yards for the Open, par 70. The sequence of holes is likely to be different than local golfers are used to. The current 14th hole likely will be the 18th, for example.

Pennsylvania has hosted more USGA events than any other state. Merion Golf Club in Ardmore is hosting the men’s U.S. Open next month.

Davis, who grew up in Chambersburg, played many of the state’s classic layouts as a junior golfer.

“I always had a fascination with Lancaster Country Club,” he said.

Davis is a friend since childhood of LCC member Steve Buterbaugh.

“When Steve joined here, I asked him, ‘Who do we have to talk to to get this done?’ ”

One such person was, and is, LCC President Jerry Hostetter, who announced Tuesday that an “Ambassador’s Council,” of local sponsors already has raised $1.25 million for the event.

“Sales have been going very, very well,” Davis said. “The club is supporting us very well. We’re right where we want to be.”

In 2007, the club completed a facelift of the course, including significant tree removal, to bring the layout closer to the original Flynn design, and hosted the Pennsylvania Open championship.

In 2009, the partnership to hosting the Open was announced.

In 2011, LCC hosted the Pennsylvania Amateur. Last year, the club reseeded the greens with a newer, state-of-the-art turfgrass.

And here we are.

“The challenge in hosting these events is you have to look at it as a one-time thing,” said Davis, who supervises the USGA’s national championships and actually sets up the course for some of them, notably the men’s U.S. Open.

“The parking, the access, the logistics … all of these things, you don’t really know how they’re going to go until you do it. You think you know, but you don’t know for sure.

“The Women’s Open can get lost in New York or Los Angeles or Chicago. There’s so much else going on. I do believe this community is perfect for the Women’s Open.

“And the golf course … I no longer set up the course for the Women’s Open, but, man, I really wish I was setting this one up. I think I’d rather set it up than play it.”