By Marc Hardin
Championship golf is returning to the Arnold Palmer-designed course at TPC River’s Bend in Maineville and this time it’s really big.
The Big Ten Conference revealed that TPC River’s Bend is the site for the 2017 and 2018 Big Ten Women’s Golf Championships. This year’s 54-hole stroke-play event to decide conference champions is April 21-23. Next year, the tournament is slated for April 20-22.
“TPC stands for Tournament Players Club and we thought it was time to get some tournament players out here,” head golf professional John Richeson said. “We want to give them and the community a championship experience unlike what they’ve had.”
Even before golfers set foot on the first tee, it’s already way different than previous years. This is the first time a Greater Cincinnati course has hosted the Big Ten Women’s Golf Championships. It’s the first time in 13 years that the tournament has been played in Ohio. This year’s event marks just the fourth time in conference history that the tournament has been held in the state. The previous three came in 1988, 1994 and 2004 in Columbus. It’s the sixth time the event has been held on a neutral course.
On top of all that history are plenty of present-day perks for those who attend the event. On the docket is a player autograph session following play Saturday afternoon, April 22. The special signing period is tentatively scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. The Big Ten is supplying autograph cards for young fans who attend the event.
Online is a newly created website that’s recently gone live at bigtenwgc.golfgenius.com, where fans can experience a drone flyover of each hole and order Big Ten merchandise complete with Big Ten, Big Ten schools and TPC River’s Bend logos. “That’s never been done before. We really want to make this a special event, something exciting for fans. Plus, admission is free,” Richeson said.
Since the announcement arrived, excitement has been the buzzword at the course, located just north of Cincinnati.
“Having the opportunity to host the Big Ten Women’s Golf Championship at TPC River’s Bend is exciting for both the club and our membership, and adds another layer to the great Cincinnati sports scene,” TPC River’s Bend General Manager and Director of Golf Jack Hunter said in a statement announcing the event. “Over time, we have hosted many high-level events, including the Champions Tour, Web.com Tour, and the National Junior PGA Championship. Bringing competitive collegiate golf at the highest level back to TPC River’s Bend is significant, and to be part of one of the best Division I conferences makes it more special.”
TPC River’s Bend member Bev Weeks is in complete agreement. “We are thrilled to have the Women’s Big Ten Conference at River’s Bend,” she said. “I am a huge Buckeye fan but will be cheering for Carolyn Markley, a TPC member playing for Michigan State. We watched her grow up on the TPC course and are very proud of her success.”
The Big Ten Women’s Golf Championships, played annually since 1982, became a 54-hole format in 2012. Ohio State leads all conference programs with 14 team championships. Indiana is next with seven titles. Michigan State and Purdue have captured six crowns. Northwestern has won three while Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin have earned one each.
Markley, a St. Ursula Academy graduate who grew up in Maineville, is hoping a trip back home results in a seventh Michigan State championship, which would tie Indiana for second-all-time. The former Girls Greater Catholic League Golf Player of the Year and two-time Ohio High School Southwest District Player of the Year lived in a home near the third green at TPC River’s Bend and began playing the course in the fourth grade.
“I remember being excited when coach first told me,” said Markley, a sophomore. “People ask me if I feel any pressure to play better on my home course, but I’m just going to focus on having fun with my teammates in the city I love and playing great golf. Being close to home means being able to see those who have supported me and helped me get to Michigan State. It is a great reminder of the goals I set for myself before beginning my college career, namely, winning a Big Ten Championship. It also means I will get to introduce my teammates and coaches to post-tournament Skyline.”
Before the Spartans get their fill of local chili, they no doubt will be picking Markley’s brains trying to glean tips on how to play the course. For Markley, she will see it in a different light. “I can’t count the number of rounds I have played at TPC, but I will now be seeing the course in competition instead of practice,” she said. “Playing a tournament in a setting I’m already comfortable in is a huge advantage. I’m also familiar with the course layout and will be able to make a game plan for how to score in competitive conditions.”
Weeks said the par-72 layout can offer its share of challenges. “The TPC Course should be particularly challenging if the women are playing from the white tees with its forced carries and the lack of roll in April,” said the course veteran. “What an opportunity to watch great women’s golf, and it’s free.”
TPC River’s Bend was listed among the “Top 10 Best New Private Clubs” in the U.S. by Golf Digest after it opened in 2001. The course has been recognized by Golf Digest as one of Ohio’s “Best Courses In State” in 2005-11, 2015 and 2016. Complementing the course is a 12-acre practice facility featuring multiple chipping and putting areas. Instructional opportunities for adults and juniors utilize state-of-the-art instructional equipment including video swing analysis and custom club fitting.
For more information, to register as a volunteer or to order gear from your favorite Big Ten school, visit the new site at bigtenwgc.golfgenius.com. There you will also find the complete tournament schedule, team rosters and directions to TPC River’s Bend.