When the Symetra Tour staff is looking for a site for its next successful tournament, the two most critical criteria are finding a title sponsor for the event’s prize money and securing an LPGA-quality golf course.
When the Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board successfully secured the right to host one of Symetra’s newest tournaments, the Valley Forge Invitational, all of the boxes were checked and the Symetra people didn’t even need to intervene to make the tournament a reality.
“That one, I would say, was the ideal model for how an event comes together,” says Mike Nichols, chief business officer of the Symetra Tour. “They had done their homework, they had identified a golf course, they had Identified a title sponsor, so they had kind of put together the pieces for us. When somebody delivers one fully baked on your plate, that’s fantastic.”
Six years ago, when Nichols took over leadership of the Symetra Tour, the series known as the “Road to the LPGA” featured 15 events for total prize money of $1.6 million. This year, from March to October, Symetra Tour players will participate in 23 tournaments for a total of $4 million. The tour’s growth has been a boon to communities like Valley Forge and provided the players on the tour with ample competitive opportunities to determine which women are ready for the LPGA.
Featuring 188 players from 45 countries, the Symetra Tour is the official developmental tour of the LPGA. The top 10 players at the end of each season automatically qualify for the LPGA Tour the following year. Additionally, any player who wins three separate events on the tour wins entry into the following LPGA season.
When they are pitching the prospect of hosting a Symetra event to a new location, Nichols and his staff emphasize the opportunity to see future LPGA players as their stars are on the rise.
“They’re kind of a part of the launching of their career, and for the people who are part of these events to say, ‘I saw the young lady who is leading that LPGA tournament play in my town,’ that’s a selling point for us,” he says.
Symetra Tour’s Value
When the Symetra staff approaches a CVB or sports commission about hosting a tournament, the first step is to outline the non-negotiable needs for a host city and to explain the ways in which a golf tournament differs from a more traditional sports offering, like a youth soccer tournament.
While a Symetra event will bring people to town, Nichols is quick to acknowledge that it will not fill as many hotel rooms as a big youth competition. But the upside, as the dozens of cities that have made multiyear commitments to Symetra golf tournaments, is found by looking at the bigger picture.
The international nature of the LPGA means that players from nearly 50 countries will spend time in that city, and that kind of exposure can have a ripple effect for areas looking to form international partnerships. Additionally, the Symetra players do more than merely play their own rounds when they come to a tournament; they also teach youth golf clinics and engage in other community activities, making it all the more notable when they make waves in the LPGA a few years hence.
Of course, Symetra events have an economic and tourism impact as well. For the first Valley Forge Invitational in 2018, organizers estimated that it had a $1 million footprint in the Montgomery County area, filling 600 hotel rooms. Due in part to the VFTCB’s commitment to promoting the region to golfers and golf fans, the bureau has created a dedicated golf brand called Montco Golf, which feature special technology and resources for those who come to Montgomery County with tee times on their mind.
In the same way that the Symetra tour is a lesser-known cousin of the LPGA, many of the tour’s host sites are smaller cities that might not have the financial means or the space to host a professional tournament. But Nichols is always encouraged by the energy that their hosts put into the events, by the understanding that cities like Valley Forge can help make a name for themselves even as young golfers do the same.
“They very much embrace it and want to put on a good show,” Nichols says. “A lot of them are the little kid sister or kid brother of a larger city in the area that gets all the attention and all the events, and this is an opportunity for them to put their best foot forward.”