Of course Cristie Kerr loves Kingsmill. She played seven LPGA tournaments at the Williamsburg resort, winning twice, posting three other top-10 finishes and earning $953,610.
Nearly a million bucks for 28 rounds of golf? It's not Tiger-in-his-prime coin, but it's a good gig if you can get it.
For the tour's first event there in 2003, Kerr signed up to bunk with a host family. Michael and Linda Whittaker became her lifelong friends.
That down-home, community aura that distinguishes the LPGA Tour from the PGA Tour — the top-flight men either rent a secluded compound or reserve the presidential suite at the local five-star — is among the traits that have not changed since women's professional golf left Kingsmill in 2009.
Indeed, fans who attend the LPGA's Kingsmill reincarnation Sept. 6-9 may not recognize some of the names, but they will certainly recognize the overall product.
The LPGA offers quality golf played, in large measure, by engaging athletes who appreciate the galleries and media — neither in large numbers — who watch them perform.
Yet the tour also remains a challenged enterprise. Hired in late 2009 as the LPGA was hemorrhaging tournaments and sponsors — see Kingsmill and Anheuser-Busch — commissioner Michael Whan has served as a human tourniquet.
This season's schedule features 27 events, up four from last year, 15 domestic, up two.
"Since the first day we met Mr. Whan, he's been very upbeat," said Brittany Lincicome, the tour's No. 6 money leader in 2011. "He's very much a team player, not looking out for himself. He runs ideas by us, which is really neat."
Kerr, No. 2 on the earnings list, agrees that Whan is an improvement over his predecessor, Carolyn Bivens.
"Our tour was not in good shape, and losing Kingsmill was like adding insult to injury," Kerr said. "Mike Whan has done great things to repair the relationships that were damaged, and he's found new business. He's a business guy. …
"But the marketing of the tour is not what it should be. It takes money to market a product properly. Celebrate and market the stars of the tour more. All of them have interesting stories and are great people. We need to get ahead of our message more."
The LPGA can't match the PGA Tour's resources and appeal, and never will. That doesn't mean the tour can't continue to grow its niche audience, in the United States and abroad.
As in 2009, the LPGA is a melting pot of cultures, nationalities and languages.
Entering the 2012 season, 18 of the world's top 25 players are foreigners, representing Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, Norway, Sweden, Australia and Scotland. Tournaments are scheduled in Australia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Brazil.
But the xenophobic worry that Americans would vanish from women's professional golf has proven unfounded. Kerr, Lincicome, Paula Creamer, Stacy Lewis, Morgan Pressel and Angela Stanford rank among the top 25. So, too, does former teen phenom Michelle Wie, still yet to realize her awesome potential — since tying for 15th at Kingsmill in 2009, she's won twice on tour, her first career victories.
Meanwhile, following the 2008 retirement of Annika Sorenstam, announced two days after she won at Kingsmill, and the 2010 exit of Lorena Ochoa, a prodigy from Taiwan has emerged as the LPGA's ascendant force.
Yani Tseng turns 23 later this month. But she's already won 12 tournaments and was the tour's Player of the Year in 2010 and '11.
Local fans are excused if they don't recall Tseng's Kingsmill appearances in 2008 and '09. She tied for 16th and 20th and never challenged on Sunday.
"It's very, very strong," Kerr said of the tour's depth. "Brittany and myself, the Korean girls, Yani Tseng."
Other Kingsmill champions who remain world-class players: Hall of Famer Karrie Webb of Australia, the 2006 winner, and Norway's Suzann Pettersen, the 2007 champ.
"Kingsmill is by far one of my favorite golf courses," Pettersen, the world's No. 2 player, told USA Today last week when news broke about the tour's return to Hampton Roads. "And it was one of the tournaments you really wanted to win. We all loved going to Kingsmill, and this is great news.
"The ship was going in the wrong direction in 2009. We had to stop the damage and turn the ship back in the right direction. I thought 2011 was a very positive year in many ways. It was a stepping stone for many reasons. Now we have to make sure the tour stays healthy."
Kingsmill returns to its previous May date in 2013, but this September's event immediately precedes the Women's British Open, pushed back a month by the London Olympics. Still, expect most, if not all, elite players to squeeze the Kingsmill Championship onto their calendar.
Kerr already has, and she'll be reuniting with the Whittakers. Said Kerr: "I couldn't be happier."
David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at email@example.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/sports/teeltime and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP