Groundskeepers were hard at work through the weekend and hundreds of local volunteers took up their posts Monday morning as River Run Country Club prepared to host the largest professional golf tournament ever staged in Lake Norman – the Chiquita Classic. Club officials said more 25,000 tickets have been sold for the event, which kicked off with a pro-am tournament and practice rounds Monday and continues through Sunday, Sept. 8.
Sponsored by Chiquita Brands, which moved its headquarters from Cincinnati to Charlotte last year, the tournament is of four important late-season events on the 2013 Web.com professional golf tour. Top golfers will tee off for the first of four rounds Thursday as they try to qualify for next year’s PGA Tour and to win a share of the $1 million purse.
Watch for Traffic
Davidson officials are warning residents to watch out for heavier than normal traffic during the Chiquita Classic. Davidson police say up to 30,000 people are expected. (Club officials said 25,000 tickets have been sold and they expect about 1/3 to 1/2 will actually be used.)
Heavier traffic is likely on NC 73/Sam Furr Road at New Birth Church, the site of general parking lots. Shuttles will take fans to and from River Run. There also could be an increase in traffic along Griffith and Main streets and Concord Road between 5:30 and 7:30am and 4 to 5pm, as golfers and caddies travel to and from the golf course.
The Chiquita Classic also is Chiquita’s major charity event for the year, with proceeds from all ticket sales going to primary beneficiary the United Way of Central Carolinas, and dozens of other area charities. (If you buy a ticket from any one of the participating nonprofits, they’ll keep 100 percent of the ticket price.)
It’s a big deal for the Lake Norman area, and for River Run, which has never hosted a top-level professional tournament in its 22-year history.
Marc Struelens, the general manager and chief operating officer at River Run, said the televised and widely-publicized tournament will help put the club on the map.
“The decision to take on the responsibility of hosting this tournament really had two purposes,” Struelens said Monday. “The first one is to give the name River Run more exposure in the community. We hear too often that people don’t know that we are here.”
“The second thing is that … We hope that this will generate more interest in memberships in River Run,” he added.
Five years ago, the club renovated its greens and made other improvements in a sort of re-launch. It cut the initiation fee from $20,000 to $7,500 and embarked on a campaign to boost membership.
Today, Struelens said, River Run has about 650, up from 351 members in 2008.
Many of those members make up the tournament’s volunteer corps. Jay Butler, a club member, former president and volunteer coordinator, said Monday that about 700 people are helping out this week. Many have been signing up just in the past couple of weeks as excitement for the tournament builds.
Butler is working with club officials, the club’s tournament chair and member Greg Murphy, and other tournament officials to make sure everything goes smoothly.
Struelens said they’re critical to the tournament’s success. “What’s amazing is the volunteer spirit,” Struelens said. “The amount of hours that people have spent, both members and non-members, to make the event a success.”
What’s attracting interest among both volunteers and fans is the tournament’s role as a major qualifier for next year’s PGA Tour. The field for the River Run and other “Tour Finals” will include the top 75 money-winners from the Web.com tour and players ranked Nos. 126-200 on the PGA Tour. All will be battling it out for 2014 PGA tour cards – the right to play the top professional golf tournaments in the US.
The course is in excellent shape, despite a summer of unusually high rainfall. The course got hit with 6 inches of rain in one night on June 28, which send water flowing across fairways. One club member said fish were found in a sand trap that had been swamp by a stream.
At one point this summer, the area got more than 20 straight days of rain. That has meant extra cost and extra work for groundskeeper Ron Ritchie and his crew. He’s even called in help from other area golf courses to meet the standards of the PGA.
“Obviously it has been challenge for the grounds crew to make the course ready,” Struelens said. “But they’ve worked very hard to make that happen.”
Bland Cooper, an agronomist with the PGA Tour, has been in town since last week to make sure the course is in shape. And he gave Ritchie high marks, as he deals not only with being a first-time PGA-level tournament, but also with Mother Nature.
“Any first-year event, it’s a challenge for any site,” Cooper said. “The challenges that Ron had this summer – 46 out of 62 days of rain – certainly created a lot of challenges.”
A hard rain Sunday night didn’t ruin preparations, he said, and the course is ready. “It’s going to be a difficult golf course. It’s going to play firm and fast,” Cooper said.
Learn more about the Chiquita Classic tournament and buy tickets, www.chiquitaclassic.com
Watch a video explaining how the Web.com Tour and Tour Finals will qualify players for next year’s PGA Tour.
The United Way of Central Carolinas is the main beneficiary of the Chiquita Classic. But many other area charities also are part of the event. Nonprofits get to keep 100 percent of the tickets they sell. To buy a ticket, contact the organizations directly or go to www.chiquitaclassic.com
United Way of Central Carolinas
Ada Jenkins Families; Careers Development Center
Angels and Sparrows Soup Kitchen
Autism Foundation of the Carolinas
Blue Ridge Boxer Rescue
Carolina Comfort Coalition
Carolina Thread Trail
Catawba Lands Conservancy
Charlotte Community Health Clinic
Communities in Schools -Charlotte
Community Culinary School of Charlotte
Community Free Clinic
Davidson Elementary School PTO
Davidson Housing Coalition
Disability Rights & Resources
Dress for Success Charlotte
Friends of the Animals
Girl Scouts, Hornets’ Nest Council
Greater Lake Norman Young Life
La Escuelita Bilingual Preschool
Lake Norman Christian School
Lake Norman YMCA
LAMB Foundation of North Carolina
Leg Up Rescue
Logan Community Child Development Center
Make a Wish Foundation – Central & Western North Carolina
Misty Meadows Riders
Music at St. Alban’s
One By One Costa Rica
Our Towns Habitat for Humanity
Pat’s Place Child Advocacy Center
Pregnancy Resource Center
Ronald McDonald House of Charlotte
Rotary Club of Lake Norman Huntersville
Speedway Children’s Charities
Teen Health Connection
The Arc of Mecklenburg County
The Center for Community Transitions
The First Tee of Charlotte
The Printing Industry of the Carolina’s Foundation
The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club of Greater Charlotte
The Salvation Army of Cabarrus County
Union County Crisis Assistance Ministry
University City YMCA