LPGA Tour hopefuls have made the annual trip to Venice, Fla., for the last 23 years to face the Panther and Bobcat courses at Plantation Golf and Country Club.
Once again, Plantation will play host to LPGA Q-School. But this year, the LPGA and LPGA Futures Tour qualifying tournaments have been combined into three stages in Florida with the Stage II qualifying tournament bringing up to 240 players to Plantation.
The Stage II qualifier will be an extremely large event held on Plantation’s two courses. Fortunately for the LPGA, the club, its staff and its large cadre of volunteers have more than two decades of experience hosting LPGA Q-school.
“This club has built a love affair with the LPGA over the years and I want to hit a homerun with this year’s event,” said Keith Struble, a Class-A PGA professional and director of golf at Plantation Golf and Country Club.
“With the past sectional tournaments that had 126 players in the field, we used 120 volunteers,” added Struble. “We’ve had to increase our volunteer base by 20 percent for this year’s tournament, but the good news is, they all want to be a part of it.”
Struble notes that preparing for the Stage II Q-school, set for Tuesday through Friday this week, requires great attention to detail. This year, the Plantation staff and volunteers will orchestrate two full waves of players off both the first and 10th tees of two golf courses for both morning and afternoon pairings.
“We will have 120 players in each wave, all warming up at the same time and we have to be prepared for that with golf balls, staff, hitting stations and transportation,” said Struble. “We’re setting up to run this tournament each day from dawn until dusk with split shifts for staff. Plus, we’ll still need maintenance of the golf course, which means we will be mowing the course in the evening with lights.”
Struble and his staff will also utilize a fleet of more than 240 golf carts to accommodate players, staff and officials – meaning that additional carts will be brought in for the event.
And of course, “people power” is essential at any tournament. Many of Plantation’s volunteers are “snowbirds” who live out of state, but Struble says most of those individuals have signed up to work all four days of the tournament and some are flying to Florida just to volunteer.
“That’s how much they love this event,” said Struble. “We started hosting the LPGA sectional Q-school when I started here 23 years ago, so it’s exciting to be a part of the change.”
This year, the two sectional tournaments that were previously held in California and Florida have been combined into the one tournament that Plantation will host. And the two separate Q-schools conducted by the LPGA and the LPGA Futures Tour will be rolled into one qualifying process with three stages.
“When the LPGA acquired the Futures Tour in 2007, we had some conflicts and we felt that combining the Q-schools solved those challenges,” said Jane Geddes, senior vice president of tournament operations and player services to the LPGA and LPGA Futures Tour. “It made sense to combine the events, especially since all players were trying to ultimately reach the LPGA.
“With the new changes, there are no separate Q-schools anymore and we have eliminated the sectionals,” added Geddes. “Now, the better you perform, the more stages you will advance through.”
And while the smaller-field sectional tournament that Plantation used to run has turned into a very large event this fall, Struble admits he is eager to see how the club’s years of experience will come into play when 240 players walk through their gates.
“I was asked if we could handle this and I assured the LPGA that we can,” he said. “And I believe that players who play the Bobcat and the Panther for four days in a row will be the best players to move on to the final stage and ultimately, to the LPGA.”