Banners touting the residents’ love for the LPGA Tour line the balcony of homes at Pinnacle Country Club, which has been the longtime host of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G. That’s not something that happens at every tour stop. In fact, few events on the LPGA’s schedule have the longevity of an event like the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship, which this season, is celebrating its 17th year hosting the best female golfers in the world. The community loves the LPGA, and in return, the players love returning to compete in Arkansas.
“They were out there cheering from the first hole, 7:30 a.m.,” said Nicole Broch Estrup, who teed off in the third group of the morning. “It's just a really good atmosphere around here.”
It’s an atmosphere that begins well before the tournament starts, with many players getting to know the pro-am partners they play with early in the week and look forward to reconnecting with them each season.
“I did have a few drinks with my pro-am group yesterday, so I was fully expecting myself to be a little bit hungover, but felt pretty good today,” Jenny Shin said following her opening round of 65. “But I'll be going to bed pretty early tonight.”
For Lydia Ko, who won at Pinnacle Country Club in 2016, she says it feels like a homecoming each year she returns to Arkansas. And it’s not only an opportunity for the former world No. 1 to take a trip down memory lane as she remembers moments from her win, but she also enjoys getting a chance to catch-up with the pro-am group she’s come to know over the last decade.
“It's always good to be back at a place where I have a lot of good memories,” Ko said after her opening round of 65 on Friday. “Played with the same pro-am group for eight years, so it just feels like it's home away from home. Outside of my golf, just seeing them is also like a treat for me when I come here to Arkansas.”
No matter where the tournament moves in the schedule, having been played in the summer and in its current spot in the fall, the championship continues to attract the biggest names in the women’s game. The past champions is a who’s who that includes not just Ko, but other former No. 1 ranked players in So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park, and Inbee Park.
A two-time winner in Arkansas, Stacy Lewis, the current U.S. Solheim Cup captain, who despite a busy week leading her team in Spain, made the long journey to Arkansas so she would be able to once more play in the event she holds dear to her heart, one she has played in every year since its inception in 2007.
“This tournament is so fun,” said Lewis upon returning to Pinnacle Country Club. “This tournament is important and it's important to me, and it's really important to this community.”
The community shows their love year after year for the LPGA, turning out in droves, donning their banners on their balconies, and returning time and again to play alongside the world’s best in the pro-am. Those aren’t things that happen at every tour stop. The community knows it and the players do too, and that’s what makes the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship so unique and going strong for nearly 20 years.