Futures leads to LPGA

The final destination on “The Road to the LPGA” will be The ILOVENY Championship at Capital Hills at

The final destination on “The Road to the LPGA” will be The ILOVENY Championship at Capital Hills at Albany Golf Course again this year.

Well, for the top five golfers on the Futures Tour money list, the road will keep going to the big tour, as it has for almost 300 Futures Tour alumnae since the Futures Tour began 27 years ago.

This will be the fourth year at Capital Hills and the third year that the Albany tournament, scheduled for Sept. 5-7, will be the last stop at which the young women golfers can move up the money list. The top five will automatically earn their LPGA tour cards for the 2009 season.

The 18-stop Futures Tour through 15 states, which began last month in Lakeland, Fla., will conclude with the inaugural Georgia Invitational in Braselton, Ga., bringing together the 2008 tournament winners.

Capital Hills has proven to be a stern test for the golfers, as befits the last chance to move up the money list.

That’s the way they like it, judging from feedback the golf course has received from the players in recent years.

“It’s been very positive,” Capital Hills assistant pro Paul Engel said. “We get a lot of cards. We’ve been told it’s the toughest they play all year, but it has to be because it’s the year-ender. They ask our superintendent to grow the rough and make the greens nice and fast.”

“The overall reaction has been very positive, particularly for a public course,” ILOVENY tournament director Jim Miller said. “You get a mix of public and private courses, and I would hold ours up against any of them.

“I think they like the challenge. It’s a difficult track, particularly from the back tees. They really grow the rough out, so you’re going to pay a penalty if you’re not hitting it straight.”

As a measure of how tough the conditions are at Capital Hills come tournament time, Onnarin Sattayanbanphot of Thailand won the ILOVENY Championship last year by one stroke with a three-under total of 210 over three days.

In 2006, seven-under won the tournament.

“I think that shows the course is a true test,” Miller said. “You can look at how many golfers, like Meaghan Francella and Julieta Granada, who received their cards on the Futures Tour, then won on the LPGA Tour the following year. So the quality of play has increased year after year. The women have gotten better, the course gets better, and overall the only problem we’ve had in four years has been the weather, and there’s nothing we can do about that.”

This will be the last year of a three-year contract to hold the final money-list tournament in Albany.

The course has a three-year guaranteed extension to play host to the Futures Tour, but if Capital Hills doesn’t secure the late-season spot on the calendar, tournament organizers will have to scramble to find another suitable date.

“My biggest thing is we don’t ever want to have to compete with the Saratoga racing season,” Miller said. “The problem you get there is the people and the media of the Capital Region are all concentraing on Saratoga, and rightfully so. But it would hurt our ability to get spectators and volunteers.”

Anyone interested in helping out as a volunteer can register online at www.ilovenychampionship.com.

Tickets are available at that site or can be purchased at the gate or the Albany County Visitors Bureau at 25 Quackenbush Square.

The price is $10 per person per day, kids 12 and under get in free and there is a $15 weekend pass good for Saturday and Sunday. There is also a $20-per-day VIP admission.

Among them are reigning LPGA Player of the Year Lorena Ochoa, Wilton native Dottie Pepper, Scotia native Laura Diaz, ADT Million Dollar champion Granada and other current stars like Karrie Webb, Cristie Kerr, Christina Kim, Grace Park and Beth Bauer.

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