Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic
By E. Nolan
Welcome to Thornberry Creek at Oneida, official home of the Green Bay Packers and a prestigious, new LPGA event. That’s right, the bright and abundant stars of north Wisconsin, at the gateway to famous Door County, are set to multiply in both quantity and brilliance this summer.
How did that happen? Of all places, how did the LPGA select Thornberry Creek at Oneida to host their newest event?
Because both sides really wanted it. The LPGA was so excited they announced the event 18 months ahead of time. Not only is this the first time the LPGA has partnered with a Tribal Nation, but it is the first time a sanctioned LPGA (or PGA) event will be held in the Green Bay area. Those are some MAJOR “firsts,” and you’ve got to give a lot of credit to the members of the Oneida Nation for their ambitious pursuit and long-term commitment to the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
The Oneida Nation knew they had a course perfectly suited to showcase the brilliance of the Tour, the passion of the fan base, and some of the best summer weather in the country. You could call it a no-brainer, but even no-brainers require plenty of investment. Thornberry Creek will host this event for at least three years, with the (legitimate) intention of keeping it for 30. Also, well beyond the best of intentions, the $2 million purse is the highest domestic purse on the Tour, outside of the Majors. Whoa. Exactly. How do you ignore that kind of investment?
Ask Chief Operating Officer of Thornberry Creek, Josh Doxtator, what this move signifies to him: “As a united team, we (with the LPGA Tour) are committed to creating an experience that hasn’t been seen before on the Tour; an event that will engage everyone, whether they like golf or not! The Oneida Nation and its members really stepped up in bringing this to the area and I’m excited for the world to see and learn more about the Nation and its properties. The entertainment value will FAR exceed the ticket price; it will be a tournament unlike any other!”
That’s a lot of excitement over a single event, but consider this: The LPGA Tour only has 34 tournaments a year. Getting one of them to commit to Wisconsin is big, not just because not every state gets to host an event, but because Wisconsin is routinely showcasing the best men in the game (at Whistling Straits and Erin Hills) and now women get that same platform (and potentially even more of one). This event is bound to become a mainstay, and is huge for growing the sport of golf locally, to a passionate population that is always hungry for more great golf.
So, how big is this event, really? HUGE. This is the first time the LPGA has been in Wisconsin since the U.S. Women’s Open at Blackwolf Run in 2012. 144 of the best LPGA Tour Players in the world will be competing, with over 70,000 spectators expected to be in attendance. The event will be covered by NBC Sports and The Golf Channel, so millions around the world, in over 160 countries, will have access to follow along. Thornberry Creek, the golf course, is going to be front and center on the biggest of screens, and it has been primed and prepped for this event. They are so ready for this.
What sold the LPGA on this course, specifically? Much of what sells the public on it, on a daily basis. On the off chance you’ve never played Thornberry Creek, you really should. That’s the first perk – it is public access, and extremely popular locally. Officially, Thornberry Creek has two courses – 27 holes of exceptionally conditioned golfers paradise. The original, 9-hole “Iroquois Course” has carved out quite a niche in the acclaim world. In 2015, it was rated “Best 9-Hole Course in the State” by the Wisconsin Golf Course Owners Association, and “Best 9-Hole Course in America” by Always Time For Nine. It’s also worth noting that the Iroquois Course is one of only ten official PGA Family Courses in Wisconsin. Par 36 with bonus Junior Tees at 1,100 and 1,800 yards (and two greens for each hole), Iroquois is a great introductory launching pad to the game, or an above par tune-up facility for those looking to take their game further below par. In any event, it’s a wonderful complement to the championship 18.
At 6,934 yards from the tips, the Par 72 Legends Championship Course is playable for all levels of golfers across four sets of tees, but intentionally built to challenge the most skilled players, too, with dozens of bunkers and nearly a dozen water hazards. The course kicks off over the famous Green Bay Packers logo and snakes around the creek, wetlands and Thornberry Creek’s spectacular lakes.
The backside introduces fescue and huge runways for fairways. The links-style holes carry over fluidly from the front, and water is less interactive in general, save for THE Signature Hole at Thornberry Creek – the have-to-see-it-to-believe-it split-fairway 15th. The round closes with a couple tree-lined hallways and the mammoth hybrid of links and trees that is the closing hole.
That’s just a quick spin around the beautiful Rick Jacobson / Bob Lohmann design – a rewarding round of smooth transitions, from trees to no trees, tight to anything but, and challenging to easy, then back again. The local affinity for this meticulously maintained product is evident and not just based on their incredible rating on GolfAdvisor.com.
It’s great that the public loves Thornberry Creek, but why will the LPGA? Major renovations were made to prepare for hosting this event. Additions include over 40,000 square feet of tee space, a 10,000 square foot putting green, a new short game practice area with two new practice bunkers, a parking lot expansion, bunkers and drainage restructuring across the course, and (in terms of the clubhouse) a brand new locker room was built with a players dining area that can accommodate up to 200.
But, bringing in this event was about much more than just accommodating players. This will provide an economic boost to the entire area – similar to that of a Green Bay Packers home game. The avid sports population is already well behind this, with area businesses already investing to make this as big as it can be.
Thornberry Creek, as the official host, will showcase some fun, fan-based festivities. There will be a tailgate on the practice tee with a DJ taking Players request for “warmup songs.” A Party Deck on the great Par 3, 17th hole, will have Foamation (the original cheesehead maker) creating exclusive headwear for the tournament, and player birdies providing $2 beers and Klement’s Brats. Tito’s Vodka will be doling out signature cocktail samples, and there will be stands by an abundance of brands including Prevea Health and the Green Bay Packers (helping out with the Pro-Am – hosting the pairings party and maybe even providing a Packer or two.) That’s a sampling of the party atmosphere that will be provided across the course, a complement to the stellar play expected from the playing field.
The Radisson, Green Bay will be the Official Hotel of the Classic, with Ticket Packages already available, and likely to go fast, given the value and proximity of the properties.
Hole after hole, Thornberry Creek is a great and memorable place to play, and in a couple of months the best women golfers in the world will put their best skills on national display from the heart of Green Bay. Visit www.thornberrycreeklpgaclassic.com for more information.