For four days at the unofficial end of summer, Sioux Falls plays host to some of the best women golfers in the sport.
The Sioux Falls GreatLIFE Challenge has become a major stop on the Symetra Tour, known as the Road to the LPGA.
But bringing the prestigious event to Willow Run Golf Course took business and community leaders coming together.
“We committed to having the largest purse in Symetra history,” said Tom Walsh, CEO of GreatLIFE Golf & Fitness.
First, Symetra tour leaders had to agree to come to Sioux Falls. Teri Schmidt, executive director of the Sioux Falls Convention & Visitors Bureau, lined up a visit from the LPGA in 2014.
“It was on a Wednesday afternoon, and when we finished the tour, one LPGA official said he’s never seen more women or more couples on a golf course in his life,” Walsh recalled. “That’s exactly what we intended to have happen when we started GreatLIFE.”
The LPGA was intrigued enough that the Sioux Falls delegation was invited to Florida to play in a Pro-Am with Symetra golfers. The Sioux Falls team not only won the tournament – they won the business, too.
“From the beginning, the Symetra people were very impressed,” Schmidt said. “Tom was very committal right away, and there was a ton of enthusiasm by all of us to bring this, and they felt that.”
Growing the purse, which eventually totaled $210,000, was critical, she said.
“While all the golfers now want to come here and golf, they still see it as, ‘Wow, look at that purse.’ And that’s even more motivation to come golf in this tournament.”
Walsh began reaching out to the business community for three-year sponsorships beginning in 2015.
“Without sponsors, you couldn’t bring an event like this to Sioux Falls,” said Randy Nehring, owner of lead sponsor Luxury Auto Mall. “It’s a benefit for the Sioux Falls community. As a sponsor, we’re teaming up with Tom to bring something to the community.”
The caliber of golf is spectacular, he added.
“I would say based on the reaction from a number of players I’ve talked to, they think Sioux Falls is a real, real good opportunity. The winnings potential attracts talent, and they believe the hospitality is out of this world.”
Last year’s winner, Nelly Korda, is in the running for LPGA rookie of the year. That shows the level of golf being played at the Sioux Falls event, Nehring said.
“It’s a lot of fun to see and experience as these golfers try to make a statement for themselves in their professional career.”
Sponsor and Legacy Development CEO Norm Drake agreed.
“It’s excellent golf. It’s a lot of fun, and you get to meet some really quality athletes who are happy just to be playing,” he said.
“We’re happy to be sponsors. We share the same core values as GreatLIFE, and we feel it’s important to be able to give back to the community in a way that enriches the lives of families, and we think this is a great way to do it.”
This year’s event Aug. 31-Sept. 3 marks the third and final year of the original sponsor commitments. Walsh said the hope is to continue it.
“It’s been fabulous,” he said. “I bet I get at least 50 thank-you cards from golfers within a couple weeks of the event. I think because they’re hungry to get on the LPGA, they’re very grateful for the chance to come here and play in such a phenomenal tournament.”
GreatLIFE thanks the complete list of Symetra sponsors.