LPGA Tour returns to Pinellas County after a 30-year absence

The Pelican Women’s Championship will be held May 11-17 at the Pelican Golf Club in Belleair.
Sarasota's Nelly Korda hits off the third tee during the final round of the KPMG Women's PGA Championship golf tournament, Sunday, June 23, 2019, in Chaska, Minn. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Sarasota's Nelly Korda hits off the third tee during the final round of the KPMG Women's PGA Championship golf tournament, Sunday, June 23, 2019, in Chaska, Minn. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Published July 8

BELLEAIR ― The LPGA Tour will return to the Tampa Bay area for the first time since 1989. Tour officials announced Monday that the Pelican Women’s Championship presented by DEX Imaging will be held the week of May 11-17, 2020, at the Pelican Golf Club.

The inaugural tournament will feature a full field of 144 golfers with a total purse of $1.75 million, which is standard for a mid-tier event. The current agreement is for three years, with an option to extend the contract after that.

“I hope it turns into 30 years," said LPGA commissioner Michael Whan, who attended the Monday morning news conference.

The last time a full-fledged LPGA event was held in the area was the USX Golf Classic in 1989 at Pasadena Country Club. Betsy King was the winner. There was a mixed team event held at Bardmoor Country Club and Innisbrook Resort until 1999, but that included PGA players.

“For us, it’s just great to bring something like this to the bay area," said Dan Doyle Jr., president and CEO of DEX Imaging and a co-owner of Pelican Golf Club. “I grew up here so to be able to have an event like this is special."

With the addition of the LPGA Tour, there will now be two professional golf tournaments in Pinellas County. The Valspar Championship, which has been played since 2000 at Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor under various sponsor names, will be played the third week of March 2020.

In 2010, when Whan took over as commissioner, the LPGA had one event in Florida. This season, there are two, the season opener in Orlando and the season finale in Naples.

Next season that total will double. Aside from Orlando and Naples, a tournament in Boca Raton in January and the Pelican tournament in May have been added.

There are currently 33 tournaments set for the 2020 season.

[ MORE GOLF: Valspar Championship to remain in Palm Harbor through 2025 ]

“I don’t sit in my office with a map and say, ‘Here’s where we want to go,'" Whan said. “We play where the check writers tell us. I actually saw DEX Imaging on (LPGA pro) Brittany’s (Altomare) shirt a couple years ago and I asked her about it. It took off from there."

Dex Imaging is a digital document company based in Tampa. Dan Doyle Sr. and Jr. took ownership of the course in May 2017.

Pelican Golf Club was formerly known as Belleview Biltmore Golf Club. The course was originally built in 1925 and designed by Donald Ross, who also designed Dunedin Country Club. Renovations to the course have been ongoing since 2017.

Construction is currently underway on a new clubhouse. The driving range is also being lengthened and a new practice putting green and villas are being built on the north side of the course.

“It’s kind of like restoring a car," Doyle Jr. said. “We started with redoing the clubhouse. Then when it came to the course we thought about it and finally my dad said, ‘Just rip the band aid off. Let’s make it perfect.’ We think we did."

With only 10 months to go before the first tee shot, the course is on a tight deadline to get things ready. Logistics of how to get spectators in and out have to be worked out. And the clubhouse and maintenance buildings still have a ways to go.

“We don’t need a hurricane," Doyle Jr. said. “But the golf course itself is perfect. It’s the ancillary buildings that we have to wrap up."

Either way, the tournament will be played. This year, there was no tournament scheduled during the middle of May, so this event does not replace another. Adding tournaments to the schedule has been a priority for players.

“A lot of the girls already live in the area,” said LPGA professional Nelly Korda, who is from Sarasota and sponsored by DEX Imaging. “It should be a really cool family event. I know everyone is excited about it and the Tour is making strides in the right direction.”