MANATEE -- Golf fans can expect a few new wrinkles when the LPGA Symetra Tour's fourth annual Guardian Retirement Championship at Sara Bay takes place April 24-26.
This year's tourney will boast an added $10,000 to the overall purse, which will be $110,000, and the winner's share will come in at $16,500, up from $15,000 from last year.
Also new is a partnership with Sarasota- and Bradenton-area Walgreens. Fans can gain two free tickets with a $3 donation at checkout to The Center for Building Hope -- one of the event's charities; it helps people affected by cancer -- at checkout.
The announcement came at the tournament venue, Sara Bay Country Club in southern Manatee County,
during Friday's annual media luncheon.
The Symetra Tour is the LPGA Tour's developmental tour, akin to the Web.com Tour for the PGA Tour. The top 10 money winners each season earn LPGA Tour cards for the following season.
"In order for us to continue to make this the pipeline and get players from all over world, they have to want to play here so there has to be a good schedule, a full schedule, more money and better golf courses," tournament director Ryan Ronk said.
Five players were on hand, including three players with area ties and two Guardian-sponsored players.
Emily Talley, who appeared on The Golf Channel reality show "The Big Break: Mexico," and Selanee Henderson were the Guardian-sponsored players in attendance.
"A couple years ago, it came down to $11 between number 10 and number 11 on the money list, so every dollar counts," Talley said. "So you just want to play well in everything."
Former University of Mississippi and Lakewood Ranch High standout Ericka Schneider joined Bradenton's Christina Miller (USF) and University of Virginia alum Brittany Altomare, who plays out of the Longboat Key Club, represented players with local ties.
"A lot of putting and a lot of short-game practice," said Schneider about preparing for the tricky greens at the Donald Ross-designed Sara Bay. "Growing up around here and knowing this golf course, being below the hole is your best friend. ... You don't play this course to make putts. You lag the putt there and if it happens to go into the hole, you kind of wink at the hole and move on."
The tournament has a good track record with past winners. In the past three years, every winner from the Sara Bay stop has gone on to earn her LPGA Tour card by the end of the season.
Last year, Marissa Steen claimed a playoff victory at Sara Bay with $75,348 in earnings to top the Symetra Tour money list and capture Symetra Tour Player of the Year honors.
"It's a great golf market," Ronk said. "We get good galleries and good attendance and can keep improving on that, but girls loving coming to South Florida. ... And if you do win here or do compete well here ... you are going to start to know who really has a chance to make that top 10."