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September 24, 2012

Kala Kachmar/Brad Zimaneck
Montgomery Advertiser
Article Source »

PRATTVILLE — Despite uncertainty about whether the Navistar LPGA Classic golf tournament held annually in Prattville will have a sponsor next year, city and tournament officials say they are confident the event will continue in the future.

Navistar, an Illinois-based corporation that manufactures diesel vehicles, has been sponsoring the event at the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail for the past six years. But after a change in senior management earlier this year, the company said it will reconsider its role in sponsoring the event in the future.

The tournament ended Sunday with Stacy Lewis winning the championship by two strokes over last year’s champion teenager Lexi Thompson.

Jonathan Romeo, director of the tournament, said this year’s turnout indicates the partnership has been a success. The number of RVs parked at the tournament doubled from last year, and the amount of concessions sold was higher than any other year.

“You always want to make sure businesses are getting what they need out of sponsorships,” Romeo said. “It focuses around their business. It has to make sense for them. We all feel encouraged on where we are.”

Romeo said LPGA will announce the partial or full 2013 event schedule in November. He said the organization evaluates its sponsors after every event and at the end of the year, even if there’s already a contract. Typically, sponsorships are renewed for three years, he said.

“Like any tournament in a renewal year, there is a process and both parties are working through that at this time,” LPGA director of communications Mike Scanlan said. “Our relationship with Navi-star, the RTJ Golf Trail and the city of Prattville has been terrific and we're hopeful for many more years to come.

“I know this is a favorite stop of the commissioner (Michael Whan) and our players thanks to a combination of the incredible Alabama hospitality, great sponsors and support of the Wounded Warrior Project.”

The amount of money the tournament raised for the Wounded Warrior Project, a program that provides services to injured service members, will exceed last year’s $75,000, Romeo said. From field donations alone, between $12,000 and $16,000 was raised, which is higher than last year.

Romeo said he’s “confident” there will continue to be professional golf in this area, and that the turnout is a “good sign.”

Navistar spokesman Steve Schrier said the company plans to announce its plans for sponsorship later this year.

“We’ve developed a longstanding partnership with the LPGA. But we’re re-evaluating our investments and will provide clarity later this year,” Schrier said. “Each and every year we evaluate our commitments.”

The event, which costs about $3.5 to $4 million and is supported by several sponsors, is received well in the community, Romeo said.

“Players are pleased with the reception they get from the locals,” said Prattville Mayor Bill Gillespie said. “I feel it’s in good hands to continue to be a staple for the city of Prattville.”

Lewis said the course reminds her of the courses she played on in Texas growing up. In April, Lewis won the Mobile Bay LPGA Classic. Officials called her two wins in the state the “Alabama Slam.”

“I love coming and playing in Alabama,” Lewis said.

Lewis said throughout the tournament, she could tell how she was doing because of the fans. She said the community has treated her well.

“The course is in unbelievable shape this year and the greens were perfect,” Lewis said.

Gillespie said the immediate economic impact the event has on the region is important, but he said the event has a residual impact as well. The event draws national attention to the area and state.

“No matter what the venue is — whether it’s golf, canoeing or the splash pad — anytime you can get your name out there is good,” Gillespie said.

According to a study conducted by the Prattville Area Chamber of Commerce, the event has a $7 million impact on the region.

“Restaurants, hotels and everybody should be extremely happy with this (event),” Romeo said. “The area supports it so well.”

Romeo said, as they do with all events, will go back to their sponsors and check on what went right and what went wrong and then moved forward from there.

“We hope — and I think from the participation of their folks this week and the amount of feedback we are getting back from them — we look positive for a future for here in Prattville,” Romeo said. “But we won’t know until all the post event meetings go on and we find out exactly where we are.”

Romeo said little changed with Navistar from previous years.

He said they brought in as many clients and suppliers as they ever have with the only difference it being in a more condensed time frame.

He said the weather for the pro-am, upper 70s and breezy compared to mid-90s, greatly contributed to the emails he received from Navistar folks saying it was the best pro-am they’ve ever experienced.

“LPGA players care about Navistar when they are entertaining their players,” Romeo said. “They do this every week and they go that extra mile to give them that great experience, when someone says it’s the best experience they’ve ever had that is saying something.”

LPGA Tour veteran Wendy Ward, who has played in all six Navistar events here, said the players always want to put their best foot forward.

“We’re trying hard to get it back,” Ward said. “I’m not sure how it all stands and we’ll make the most of it this year and put on a good show and if not Navistar maybe we’ll entice another good sponsor.”

Romeo said it was too early to think there might be a need to look for a new sponsor, but said “you know who the players are who might be interested in something like this.”

“The LPGA is a world brand and it takes a world company to get the benefit of everything and there are a lot of those here,” Romeo said.

Thompson, who seemed to grow up here before our eyes the last few years, doesn’t want to see the event to disappear.

“I love this event,” Thompson said. “It’s run so well and all the sponsors and the Wounded Warrior project as a charity to give back to … it’s an amazing event. I want this event to be here.”

LPGA veteran Natalie Gulbis, who has also played in all six tournaments here, said there is no need to worry.

“Everything has been very positive and even though they had a couple of changes at top of Navistar I’ve heard that we are definitely coming back,” Gulbis said.

Sports editor Brad Zimanek contributed to this report.