Golf

Golf | LPGA Legends Tour to bring Handa Cup to Manatee County's Palm-Aire Country Club

MANATEE -- The LPGA Legends Tour is coming to Manatee County.

The 10th annual ISPS Handa Cup, a team event pitting past American greats from the LPGA Tour against past greats from the rest of the world in a Solheim Cup- or Ryder Cup-style format, announced a new venue for its tournament on Tuesday.

That venue is Palm-Aire Country Club in southern Manatee County. The ISPS Handa Cup will make its debut on Florida's west coast and third visit to the Sunshine State on Nov. 12-14.

World Golf Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez, who won her first LPGA Tour event at Bent Tree Country Club in Sarasota when the tour made regular stops from 1976-87, will captain the United States team. South Africa's Sally Little is set to captain the World team.

"The Legends Tour has so many great players on it," Lopez said during a teleconference Tuesday, "players that I think at one time on the LPGA Tour really opened the door to bring a lot of recognition to the women's tour."

Palm-Aire opened in 1957 and has a history of hosting professional golfers. The PGA Tour brought The DeSoto Open to the course in 1960. It was won by the legendary Sam Snead.

The U.S. holds an 8-1 advantage in Handa Cup history and is the defending champion after last year's 28-20 victory at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Pointe, Miss.

Each team features 12 players. Similar to the Solheim Cup, alternate-shot and best-ball formats are used in two-person team matches. What is different from that biennial match-play tourney is the matches for the Handa Cup cover nine holes and adopt a stroke-play format so fans can witness players finishing up on the ninth or 18th greens.

"We are getting stronger with international players," said Australian Jan Stephenson, 63, who won 16 career LPGA Tour titles, including three majors, and is the career money leader on the Legends Tour. "That makes it fun. We're getting a lot of the Korean girls can qualify now. I think we're going to take the Americans for a pretty good run this year."

Stephenson has seen the game grow from her days roaming the fairways on the LPGA Tour. The Australian said there were only about three international players competing regularly on the LPGA Tour during her prime.

Now?

There's a litany of foreign-players dotting an LPGA Tour field.

"The world has become so small now," Stephenson said. "It definitely is an international tour. Not just for the LPGA, but for the PGA, too, you see it as well."

But despite the recent influx of foreign talent, the Handa Cup has been a one-sided affair. The United States won the first six meetings, before earning a tie in 2012 to retain the Cup and losing for the first time in 2013.

The Legends Tour was founded in 2000 and features more than 750 combined victories and 14 World Golf Hall of Famers. It's the official senior tour for the LPGA.

Lopez, who has family in nearby Venice, qualified for the hall of fame with her 35th career victory in the late 1980s in Sarasota at the old Bent Tree tour stop. Her first career victory came at Bent Tree in 1978.

Legend Tour CEO Jane Blalock said the rich history of the tour's involvement with Bent Tree and the number of golf facilities -- 76 -- between Manatee and Sarasota counties was key to bringing the Handa Cup to the area.

And Palm-Aire's historical venue, where the first three-time Masters winner, Jimmy Demaret, was a former golf professional, was the perfect fit.

"Without question, the Legends Tour is an important tour for ladies golf and for all of us," Palm-Aire club president Ed Kornberger said.

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