Extra Points: ShopRite Classic Is One of The Area’s Best Events
This is going to be different.
The 32nd edition of the ShopRite LPGA Classic starts today at Seaview Hotel and Golf Club in Galloway Township. It is area's most popular professional sports event. Thousands of spectators stroll the Bay Course and fill the grandstands at the 18th hole to watch the world's top women's golfers.
Not this year, however.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, fans will not be permitted to attend. There will be no grandstands or air-conditioned corporate tents, no vendors or concession stands. There will be no roars echoing throughout the course when someone hits a booming drive or sinks a 30-foot putt.
On the plus side, having the tournament in the early fall instead of late May or June reduces the chances of a greenhead chewing on my ankle. There was one year when the flies were so bad, the pro shop ran out of insect repellent and the sound of fans, players and caddies smacking their legs was nonstop.
But the part of the tournament that I'll miss the most is the Pro-Am.
The two-day ShopRite Pro-Am is the largest one held on the PGA, LPGA and Champions PGA tours.
Three-hundred groups of five golfers - four amateurs and a pro - compete on the Bay and Pines Courses at Seaview, as well as Galloway National. The event is so popular, tournament organizers fill the groups with current and former players from the LPGA and Symetra Tours.
I've played in it four times and had an absolute blast each time.
My debut was in 2017 when I was paired with Elena Robles, a former contestant on Golf Channel's "The Big Break," on the Pines Course. Every hole featured a tent that had soft pretzels, hot dogs, energy drinks, water and all the Tito's Vodka you could drink. By the 12th hole, it was tough to see my ball on the tee, let alone make contact. Keeping the cart from veering into the woods was a challenge.
The next day was dramatically different.
I was in a group with So Yeon Ryu, who at the time was the top-ranked player on the LPGA tour. We were on the Bay Course and walked 18 holes while a caddie lugged our clubs and picked errant shots out of the knee-high fescue.
In 2018, I was matched with Brittany Mai, a former golfer at UCLA who was celebrating her 25th birthday that day.
Please, my putter was older than her.
Again, we had a great time. Brittany was a bit on the shy side, perhaps because she wasn't born when the first ShopRite Classic was held in 1986, but quickly warmed up and chuckled when I took one swig from a bottle of coconut water and promptly spit it all over my Footjoys.
I absolutely cannot stand the stuff. It reminds of the prep you have to drink before a CAT Scan.
Perhaps my favorite Pro-Am stint was last year, when I played with LPGA veteran Julieta Granada and her mother/caddie Rosa. I had first met them in 2005, when Julieta was an 18-year-old senior at the David Leadbetter Golf Academy in Florida and was playing the tournament on a sponsor's exemption. During the round, we shared laughs and bratwursts while somehow managing to finish 10-under par as a team.
The best part of the Pro-Am is the after-party at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa. Borgata's Event Center is crammed with food ranging from fish tacos to sliders to the extremely popular Tater Tot bar that includes a variety of toppings.
Most years, I grab some fish tacos and wash them down with a Margarita before heading downstairs to try my hand at 3-card Poker.
Kudos to ShopRite Classic Executive Director Tim Erensen, Tournament Manager Bill Hansen, and everyone else for bring the tournament back this year.
It would have been easy for them to follow the lead of other sports leagues and events and cancel after the pandemic hit, but they were committed to bringing the tournament back to the area, even if it meant playing with no spectators.
Through the years, the ShopRite Classic has included some of the sports legendary golfers such as LPGA Hall of Famers Amy Alcott, Pat Bradley, JoAnne Carner, Beth Daniel, Betsy King, Juli Inkster, Nancy Lopez and Annika Sorenstam. Inkster won the inaugural event in 1986 and again in 1988. King was also a two-time champion while Sorenstam won it three times.
Defending champion Lexi Thompson and two-time champ Stacy Lewis top this year's field.
It should be a another great event, even without fans.
Or Tater Tots.