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LPGA Championship Spectator Guide: Championing women's pro golf

Rochester Business Journal
June 18, 2010

If you take a close look at Locust Hill Country Club in Pittsford and Henrietta, with its beautiful, spacious clubhouse and pristine 18-hole golf course, it's hard to envision it as it once was-a barn sitting on 89 acres of farmland.

The indoor facility is roughly 30,000 square feet with amenities to accommodate members and their guests. There's a dining room, a separate formal dining room and an outdoor patio grill and eating area. Locust Hill also has a bar, a ballroom, a large fitness center, locker rooms for men and women and a pro shop. Outside are a swimming pool and three tennis courts.

Members? The club has about 450 memberships in total, and roughly 270 of those have access to the golf course.

Then there's the course, which has hosted an LPGA tournament for 33 years. For the first time since the inaugural tournament in 1977, this year the tournament at Locust Hill is one of the four major championships in women's golf, the LPGA Championship presented by Wegmans.

The official name of the Locust Hill event has changed a few times over the years, but from Day 1, one thing has not changed: It has been among the most popular and well-attended tournaments on the women's tour.

The year was 1925 and 30 businessmen, all members of the Rochester Gyro Club, decided it was time to play their own golf course. So they purchased the 89 acres of Locust Hill farm, owned by Frank Zornow, on the north side of Jefferson Road.

There's no record of what happened to the crops or the cattle, but the barn, according to the Locust Hill website, was quickly made into a "Locker House" that included a pro shop, showers, lockers and a place where food was served. The farmhouse was converted into a clubhouse with lockers for women.

Then came the important next step: the golf course. It started with nine holes, and Locust Hill's membership grew to 225 in two years. So in 1927 the club purchased 52 acres on the south side of Jefferson Road, where seven of the nine holes on the back nine are now.

The course was designed by the late Seymour Dunn, who was born in Scotland in 1882. And as someone once said, the course is "all Seymour Dunn."

There were times when the club faced trials and tribulations. First came the Great Depression after the stock market crash in 1929. Then, in 1936, a fire destroyed the clubhouse; the bartender who lived in the building died in the blaze. Since then, though, Locust Hill has enjoyed far more birdies than bogeys.

In 1946, the club installed an irrigation system to water fairways and greens. In 1967, a two-story building was constructed behind the clubhouse for a men's locker room, a pro shop and golf cart storage. And from 1984 to 2006, there were more renovations, expansions and additions to the club.

Then there's the original swimming pool, which brings back some memories for Jean Giambrone, a member at Locust Hill for 60 years. In 1954, the club's board of directors voted against building a pool and, Giambrone recalled, "the people who wanted the pool were told they had to pay for it."

So they did, she said. Of course, the pool became quite popular and ultimately the "investors" were repaid.

Once upon a time at Locust Hill-as at most, if not all, private clubs-women were not allowed to play the course at certain times.

"Women could only tee off after the men (teed off), and after noon," she said. "And

we couldn't be in the grill on men's day-in the dining room only."

Restrictions on female golfers no longer exist, Locust Hill pro Steve Barber said.

But even back then, Giambrone, her late husband, Charles, and their children loved being at the club.

"For Charlie, business came first," she said, "so Locust Hill was our summer life."

Indeed it was. Giambrone won the Locust Hill women's championship four times, and before that she won the Lake Shore Country Club championship six times.

In the mid-1970s, Locust Hill members were looking for a special way to celebrate its 50th birthday.

"And the New York State Golf Association was looking for a site to play its 1977 women's amateur," recalled Daniel Hurley, 88, a member at Locust Hill for 53 years.

The timing couldn't have been better. In a letter dated Sept. 27, 1976, the RDGA was contacted by the Dunlop Co. in Buffalo, which was looking for a golf club here that would be interested in hosting an LPGA tournament in July 1977.

The rest, says the cliche, is history. Locust Hill jumped all over the opportunity to host a women's professional tournament. The tournament, according to the letter, had been held in Buffalo "the past two or three years" and "it is hoped that the annual event can be alternated each year between Buffalo and Rochester."

The bottom line, though, was that the LPGA had found its permanent home in Western New York at Locust Hill Country Club. The tournament was the Bankers Trust Classic for two years, and then Sarah Coventry Jewelry was the sponsor for two years. In 1982, the event became the Rochester International, and Wegmans took over sponsorship in 1998.

Hurley said the membership "was OK with (hosting an LPGA tournament)," which was putting it mildly. Just check the numbers. Regardless of the sponsorship, from its inception the tournament has been one of the best-attended events on the LPGA schedule, and for many years it has drawn something like 90,000 golf fans for the week.

This year, since the tournament is a major championship and the field will be even more impressive, that number is likely to increase.

In the recent past, Locust Hill has played slightly longer than 6,300 yards. For the LPGA Championship, Hurley said, the course will play about 150 yards longer than the yardage from the men's tees. The first, fourth and 10th holes will play longer than they did when the tournament was not a major.

There is no debate that hosting the LPGA Championship is a monumental moment in the 83-year history of Locust Hill Country Club.  

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