London rolls out red carpet to the world

JOHN HERBERT -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 10:54 AM ET

Welcome, world.

Tournament director Sean Van Kesteren has been saying for months that the $1.7 million purse and a great golf course -- London Hunt and Country Club -- would bring world-class LPGA players to the city for the Canadian Women's Open championship.

Turns out he was right. Van Kesteren has assembled an outstanding field.

Superstars Se Ri Pak and Juli Inkster are coming to London. Natalie Gulbis, the tour's second biggest star attraction to Annika Sorenstam, is in the field. There are 11 South Korean players and they happen to have won nine of the LPGA's 18 tournaments this year. Add to the mix Canadian star Lorie Kane, U.S. veteran star Meg Mallon, whiz kid Morgan Pressel, Americans Cristie Kerr, World Golf Hall of Famer Beth Daniel and recent near U.S. Open winner Brittany Lincicome and it's clear Van Kesteren was right.

A field of 156 tees off beginning Thursday.

There's a few exceptions, of course. No. 1 money winner Lorena Ochoa of Mexico, Karrie Webb of Australia, Paula Creamer and Sorenstam are taking a pass.

"All in all, it's a very good field," said Van Kesteren, an Acton native who works for the Royal Canadian Golf Association.

"Certainly what CN (the title sponsor) did with the purse and the fact we have one of the best clubs in the country are key ingredients,'' Van Kesteren said. "All the Canadians (on the LPGA Tour) pushed really hard. They can do a lot of things we don't have access to. They talk to the other players all the time.''

Van Kesteren said showing their appreciation to the players while they are in London will go a long way in bringing them back next year, when the championship moves to Edmonton.

Edmonton will have the advantage of a better date as the LPGA announced just a few weeks ago the Canadian Women's Open would be pushed back a week to avoid a conflict with the British Women's Open. This year's tournament was first scheduled for Edmonton but the RCGA pulled it because many players gave advance warning they wouldn't want to travel to Edmonton the day after the British Open.

The RCGA felt London would be more convenient than Edmonton, and the strategy seems to have worked.

Van Kesteren said the RCGA, CN and the tournament committee, led by chairpersons Doug Alexander and Susan Holliday, want to show the players a first-class time at the Hunt Club.

"We're doing lots of things,'' Van Kesteren said. "We're providing transportation at the Detroit, London and Toronto airports. I don't think many tournaments do that. We're willing to pick the players and their caddies up anywhere."

Van Kesteren said some of the players have never been to Canada and discussing visa and passport concerns with them at the recent world match play championship put them at ease about entering the country.

Some players were given city maps and a brochure because many had never heard of the Forest City.

"On site, we have gift bags for them, they have access to the CN suite all week, they have complimentary food and beverage in the clubhouse in their own private dining lounge and they have their own player lounge equipped with laptops. This year, there's what we're calling The Caddy Shack -- a big tent in front of the clubhouse for the caddies. They will have food and beverage provided, their own TVs, and leather couches."

Events include parties for the Korean contingent, the Canadian players and two expert fly fishers who will assist players who want to fish in the Thames River.''


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