Guardian Retirement Championship rave reviews second time around

jdill@bradenton.comApril 30, 2013 

MANATEE -- When Christine Song finished her victory speech and accepted the 2013 Guardian Retirement Championship trophy (and the $15,000 first-place check), the second LPGA Symetra Tour event at Sara Bay Country Club wrapped a long, fun-filled week for players and spectators alike.

The tournament's conclusion also proved that running an event in its second year is usually always easier than the inaugural one.

And that was the case with the tournament held in southern Manatee County, which grabbed Guardian Life Insurance Co. as the title sponsor.

"Having them on board early, and having a full year to plan and organize the event, everything just becomes easier at that point," tournament director Ryan Ronk said. "We had a lot of sponsor-type of activity this

week. With Guardian, they brought in 30-plus of their top producers from around the country, so our pro-am on Wednesday was really built around that. And it was a full pro-am, 28 teams. Kind of blew that out."

Ronk credited Sara Bay general manager Paul Barone, who was the tournament's volunteer chair, and how many volunteers were at the ready before last week's festivities beginning as a reason for the smooth operation.

"We weren't scrambling for volunteers late," Ronk said. "The second time around is always easier from setting up the course, signage, vendors you are using. So yeah, this year's been fantastic."

The players, Ronk said, have returned the positive feedback from the 2013 edition at Sara Bay, despite the difficulty of playing the Donald Ross design.

"It's a challenging course as we know," Ronk said. "But the girls can't say enough about the quality of the facility, the golf course. It's easily one of the best courses we play all year. And you hear it from almost everybody we talk to."

The ease of putting this year's event on compared to the inaugural tournament in 2012 didn't just translate to the LPGA Symetra Tour staff, but also the Sara Bay staff.

Knowing what to expect and learning from organizing the 2012 edition aided efforts this year as both staffs worked seamlessly in giving the 3,450 fans in attendance over the three tournament rounds a well-run show.

"I think mostly in the volunteers," said Sara Bay head pro Daren King about the main difference in how the tournament's been run this year. "Last year was a little more disorganized. Training was, and everybody was a little bit in how things were handled with them. But this year with them having themselves experienced already, a year under their belt so the training was much easier."

A three-year deal was put in place when the Symetra Tour was brought to Sara Bay, which means the tournament is scheduled to come back next year.

"The key is always to improve," Ronk said. "It's going to be, if not the same week, around the same week based on our scheduling. I think every year you want to draw more people. You want to market it better, get more folks out. But based on just the logistics and the volunteers and everything else, we couldn't ask for more. We're pretty happy as it relates to that."

In terms of the golf, Song and France's Isabelle Boineau fired 5-under par 211 totals and thrilled the gallery with a two-hole playoff that ended with Song's birdie.

The better scoring was due to better weather -- last year's event featured a second-round rain delay that forced some players to finish Sunday morning before the final round -- and slightly slower green speeds.

"We put some Primo on (the greens) the last four or five days, that kind of stunts the growth of Bermuda so it doesn't grow so much during the day," King said. "But we haven't rolled them at all this week like we did last year. So we've kept the roller off of them, and they kind of want them right there, which is fine because you be a little more aggressive on your putts."

Song took advantage of that with 22 putts in Friday's first round en route to winning her first LPGA Symetra Tour title since 2010, where she won twice to earn full-time status on the LPGA Tour in 2011 and 2012.

And based on where Esther Choe (the 2012 champion) ended up -- tops on the money list and a 2013 LPGA Tour member -- the 2014 Guardian Retirement Championship might be in store for a new winner without a defending champion present.

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