Symetra Classic at Sara Bay

Natalie Sheary of Hartford, Conn., is going home for the holidays, but when she returns to IMG Academies she will be spending plenty of time at Sara Bay Country Club, preparing for the LPGA Symetra Classic of Sara Bay.

This will be Sheary's second year on the LPGA Futures Tour, and the 2011 Wake Forest grad is excited about playing a tournament closer to her new-found home in Bradenton.

 "You must have a good short game, putt well and keep the ball below the hole on this course," said Sheary at Tuesday's press conference at Sara Bay, announcing the tournament.

Until a title sponsor commits, the 54-hole tournament will be called the LPGA Symetra Classic of Sara Bay. Starting Jan. 1, Symetra will be the sponsor for the LPGA Futures Tour.

Symetra Classic of Sara Bay will be the second stop on the 2012 LPGA Futures Tour and will be held April 16-22.  It will be the first pro golf tournament to be held in the Sarasota-Bradenton area since the Invitational at TPC at Prestancia in 2000.

The three-day tournament will have a field of 144 golfers, playing for a purse of $100,000. The winner will collect a check of $15,000.

"These are the very best of the up and coming LPGA players," said Zayra Calderon, chief of tournament business affairs. "There will be a wait-list of about 60 players attempting to get into this tournament."

Only one of the 144 players will advance from a qualifying tournament at IMG Academies. Ginger Howard of Bradenton attends IMG and probably will have a berth in the main draw.

Two pro-ams will be held during tournament week on Wednesday and Thursday with various levels of participation. Tickets for the tournament will be priced at $10 per day or $25 for the weekend.

 "This is a good golf community," said Paul Barone, Sara Bay general manager. "The tournament at Prestancia was well supported and I think this one will be, too."

The LPGA Tour had a 13-year run in Sarasota, starting in 1976 as the Bent Tree Classic. Kathy Whitworth won the first tournament before the name was changed to the Sarasota Classic, but it was still held at the Bent Tree Country Club. Her winner's check was $8,500.

In 1978, Nancy Lopez captured her first pro victory at Bent Tree. In 1987, she then won her 35th title there. It automatically qualified her for the LPGA Hall of Fame.

Nobody enjoyed the Sarasota Classic more than Patty Sheehan, who won three times at Bent Tree, including the final tournament in 1988.

Some of the biggest names in women's golf history played and won at Bent Tree, including Judy Rankin, JoAnne Carner, Sally Little, Beth Daniel and Amy Alcott.

 The LPGA Futures Tour has become the world's largest international women's developmental tour. The top 10 money winners each season earn automatic membership on the LPGA Tour.  The 2012 Futures Tour will have 17 tournaments.

Former LPGA Futures Tour players have won a total of 359 LPGA titles, including 38 major championships.


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