How Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Ol’ Colony Landed the 2022 LPGA Epson Tour Event
Planning and hosting a professional golf tournament, especially the first of its kind in Tuscaloosa, is no small feat.
In a first for the city, Tuscaloosa will host the inaugural Tuscaloosa Toyota Classic, a stop on the Epson LPGA Tour. It will mark the final tournament leading to the Tour Championship. Over seven days, from September 26 to October 26. 2, it will include a two-day Pro-Am, a practice round and 72 holes of competitive play at Ol’ Colony.
Wright Waters, who has served as commissioner of the Sun Belt Conference as well as executive director of the Football Bowl Association, is co-director of the tournament. One of the main organizers, Ronny Robertson, contacted his longtime friend and asked Waters to become manager. They enlisted Loo Whitfield, retired athletic director of Tuscaloosa City Schools and director of education for the Alabama Chamber Foundation, to be co-director.
Robertson is leading the sponsorship campaign to fund the tournament, which he says will cost between $500,000 and $600,000 to stage. The economic impact on the city, from hotels to restaurants to stores, will likely bring in double that amount, making it a financial boom for Tuscaloosa, Northport and West Alabama.
No entry fee will be charged to spectators.
The organizers estimate that around 140 volunteers will be needed to help organize the event, which will bring together around 120 golfers representing around 30 countries.
The progression from the early stages to today has been rapid.
“Stan Adams went to a meeting where the LPGA had a booth. Someone asked the question, “Would you ever consider hosting a tournament like this in Tuscaloosa?” And the LPGA said yes. He came back and PARA and Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports signed a contract,” Waters said. “It wasn’t very long. He was signed just after the first of the year.
After:Tuscaloosa lands LPGA Epson Tour golf event at Ol’ Colony for fall
Adams, executive director of TTS, said he received an email from Ol’ Colony’s director of golf, John Gray, asking him and his TTS boss, Don Staley, to meet with him and the chairman of the board of directors of Ol’ Colony, Hardy McCollum and Robertson, on October 12. 2021.
They were told that a lot of work, time and money had gone into improving Ol’ Colony and that there was a desire to feature the course designed by Jerry Pate. They wanted to organize a tournament. Adams asked for two weeks, knowing he was headed to a conference and trade show where he could explore the idea.
It was there that Adams discovered, after developing a relationship with someone on the Epson Tour, that the LPGA was a possibility.
“I set up a meeting with him on October 12 and said, ‘Hey, I think we can finally do this,'” Adams said. A meeting was held in Colorado Springs to discuss finances and details.
A week later, on October 22, the organizers held a Zoom call with the tour and a deal was struck, leading to the signing of the contract.
David DeSantis, owner and general manager of Tuscaloosa Toyota, has agreed to be the title sponsor of the tournament.
“We were really lucky,” Waters said. “We started with folks from PARA and the Tuscaloosa Tourism and Athletics Commission and added several former University of Alabama (athletics) staff who have unique talents.”
Pate went on a tour in March to observe the dynamics. He returned to Tuscaloosa for course modifications.
Waters said Ol’ Colony board member Brion Hardin was also instrumental. Hardin Construction has been a major player in the upgrades.
“Brion is the one who said, if not now, when? Waters said.
“We have a diamond in the rough here,” Robertson said. “Brion had the vision.”
Hardin said Alabama football Nick Saban gave him the idea years ago when Saban talked about hosting the men’s Korn Ferry Tour. “When we got that opportunity, especially one for the women, it was cool. Amazing,” Hardin said.