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Legends of golf ready to showcase talents

Thursday, August 14, 2008

They're coming.

Twenty of the most recognizable names in LPGA history are set to descend opon our region for one memorable weekend of golfing excitement.

And it's all for an excellent cause.

The first-ever Horseshoe Bend Invitational, scheduled for Sept. 28-29 at The Golf Course on Turkey Mountain in Horseshoe Bend, will not only feature a Who's-Who of LPGA golfing legends, it will also benefit Arkansas Children's Hospital, the charity that will receive all profits from The Legend Tour's stop in Horseshoe Bend.

The Legends Tour is the official senior tour of the LPGA and began in 2000 by LPGA professionals to showcase the talents of some of the greatest women golfers of all time.

The Horseshoe Bend Invitational, a one-day charity Pro-Am, is bringing LPGA Legends to the state of Arkansas for the first time ever, and marks only the second event to feature the LPGA in Arkansas in over 50 years.

The Legends Tour has over 100 members, including nine LPGA and World Golf Hall of Fame members. Players on the Legends Tour have a combined 600 LPGA Tour victories, including 55 major championships.

The way Turkey Mountain Golf Pro Chuck McNeight sees it, it was just a matter of time before the LPGA started a senior's tour.

"Being in the golf business for over 20 years, I thought something like this (Legends Tour) would happen one day," said McNeight. "When the Senior Tour started in the mid-80s and took off, it seemed to me that in the 90s there would be a natural progression towards a ladies' senior tour. But I knew it would take awhile for that to get going. Then in 2000 Jane Blalock started The Legends Tour. I was a golf pro in Florida at the time and they had an event or two down there, so I've been keeping an eye on this since about 2000."

And after moving to Horseshoe Bend from Florida, McNeight figured a logical step was to unite the Ozarks with The Legends Tour.

"When I got here to MRID, one of the things they wanted me to do was to showcase our area and the Ozarks," he said. "And that's when The Legend's Tour started ringing a bell. I said, 'you know, I bet that would be a good fit here,' so I started putting two and two together."

So while bringing The Legends Tour to Horseshoe Bend was obviously an excellent idea, it also meant a lot of time, effort and planning for McNeight and those involved.

By the time the Pro-Am tees off on Sept. 29, over two years worth of behind-the-scenes toiling will have elapsed.

"Yeah, it's been a little over a year since I first contacted them (Legends Tour), so by the time they get here, about 18 to 24 months of work will have passed," McNeight said.

And helping McNeight with all that work is a group of volunteers dedicated to promoting the region and helping out kids at Arkansas Children's Hospital.

"We've got an executive committee of about seven people and their job is as administrative as anything," said McNeight. "We committee departments and have department heads over those. Those department heads have specific goals and specific timelines to achieve those goals, and then they have specific manpower to achieve those goals. The executive committee meets weekly, sometimes more than weekly to keep on top of things. Then we have 15 to 18 departments, such as hospitality, parking, food and beverage, housing, media and such, and that entails about 35 or more people that assist with those departments. We meet on a monthly basis with those departments to organize our workforce. And as we get closer to the event, timelines get more pressured, meetings get quicker and things get fast and furious."

Although they've been on the scene for eight years now, it appears that The Legends Tour is not so set in its ways that it can't learn a thing or two from some folks in the Ozarks.

"The community has really, really supported this. One of the things The Legends Tour has said is, 'you've kind of changed our business model,'" said McNeight. "In their marketing scheme, they had always went after mid-sized markets. They knew they couldn't compete with the PGA in the bigger markets like San Diego, Chicago, Tampa ... so they decided to attack mid-sized markets and go after a single corporate sponsor. So in a nutshell, they would go to a town between 50,000-100,000 (population) and go to like the local 3M Corporation and they would sponsor some kind of event to entertain either their staff or customers. So The Legends Tour focused on getting that one single, corporate sponsor. They never thought they could go into a small market and accumulate 10 or 15 regional sponsors. They never thought they could do that. Now they're seeing it can be done. That a small market can embrace them. And that's primarily the business plan that I put in front of them."

When The Legends Tour hits Horseshoe Bend the last part of September, the region will see some of the most storied names in LPGA history, including Jan Stephenson, Amy Alcott, Pat Bradley, Cindy Rarick, Cindy Miller, Jane Blalock, Rosie Jones and Kathy Whitworth.

And in addition to the pro-am, a one-day community clinic will be held at the course Sept. 28, showcasing the swings of the Legends Tour professionals.

In its seven seasons, The Legends Tour has awarded more than $6 million in prize money and donated more than $3 million to charity. The Legends Tour has hosted events in Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Japan and Australia. Major corporate partners are American Airlines, Olay, BJ's Wholesale Club and Sharpie. For additional information on The Legends Tour, or to buy tickets for the Horseshoe Bend Invitational, log on to www.thelegendstour.com

Although this tournament is certainly poised to be one of the biggest events the city of Horseshoe Bend has ever hosted, and the whole region should benefit from the increased traffic, McNeight remains focused on the ultimate goal -- helping Arkansas Children's Hospital.

"That's what this is all about. We hope people have a good time that weekend and have memories from it they will never forget," he said. "And we hope to be able to deliver the Arkansas Children's Hospital with a nice check when it's all over with. That's what this is really about, helping those kids. They do some amazing work there at the Hospital and it's an honor to be able to help them out."

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