Down the Fairway: Trainor’s vision enabled Symetra Tour to grow

Symetra Tour founder Eloise Trainor, left, poses with former LPGA standout Dottie Pepper, center, and LPGA Teaching Pro Hall of Famer Kay McMahon.
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Symetra Tour founder Eloise Trainor, left, poses with former LPGA standout Dottie Pepper, center, and LPGA Teaching Pro Hall of Famer Kay McMahon.

As the Symetra Tour prepares to tee off in the Capital Region for the 37th time this weekend with the Twin Bridges Championship at new local home Pinehaven Country Club, it’s fair to say there have been dozens of memorable performances and plenty of changes along the way for the official developmental tour for the LPGA.

A total of 147 players have automatically “graduated” to the LPGA Tour from the Symetra Tour. That impressive list includes local standouts Dottie Pepper of Saratoga Springs, a 17-time winner and former Rolex Player of the Year on the LPGA Tour, and Scotia native Laura Diaz, the daughter of former local club pro Ron Philo Sr.

Pepper won as an amateur when the Symetra Tour was called the Futures Tour and the local stop was named the Albany-Colonie Chamber Open. She is now a highly regarded television analyst for the PGA Tour as well as an author. Diaz won three times on the Symetra Tour and went on to win twice on the LPGA Tour.

Other noteworthy players who got their professional starts on the Symetra Tour include Grace Park, Christina Kim, Seon-Hwa Lee, Inbee Park, Vicky Hurst, Mo Martin, Brooke Henderson, Karrie Webb, Laura Davies and Jackie Stoelting, whose parents are Capital Region natives.

But one name often left out when discussing the most important historical figures of this dynamic tour is its founder, New Lebanon High School graduate Eloise Trainor, who is currently the co-owner of eduKaytion golf with LPGA Teaching Hall of Famer Kay McMahon.

Trainor, 71, had dreams of playing on the LPGA Tour, but when she moved to Florida as a young woman in the early 1980s, she discovered there weren’t any tournaments to play in before entering LPGA Qualifying School. That’s when she opened up a bank account and collected $125 entry fees from about 30 young players competing for a total purse of $3,600.

Trainor called the new organization the Tampa Bay Mini Tour. She renamed it the Futures Golf Tour in 1983 and gradually opened it to national rather than strictly regional competition. Since that time, that tour has had a couple of different title sponsors, including Duramed and now Symetra. The first local stop was at Town of Colonie Golf Course, and it remained there from 1984 before moving to Western Turnpike Golf Club (2000-2001) and then Orchard Creek Golf Course (2002-2003).

Capital Hills at Albany hosted the event for the previous 17 seasons until local organizers switched the host site to Pinehaven Country Club. Last year’s tournament was canceled because of the pandemic, but there was a one-day pro-am held.

In 1999, Trainor sold her shares of the tour to Zayra Calderon. The LPGA Tour took the Futures Tour over in 2007. Currently, the top 10 players on the Symetra Tour money list earn a berth on the LPGA Tour for the following season.

Trainor remains proud of her most noteworthy career achievement, and she keeps in touch with how the Symetra Tour is progressing. After all, it’s like a part of her family.

“Well, there is no question that I love the fact that the LPGA has kept the Symetra Tour as strong and as viable as it currently is,” Trainor said in a telephone interview this week. “Mike Nichols is just a gem of a leader for the Symetra Tour. It’s all about the players for him. They always want to do the best for their players, giving them the best sites and the best opportunity for making some money. Just look at the money now, and how good the players are. They work hard, and they certainly earn what they are making.

“The Symetra Tour is very strong right now, and I couldn’t be prouder of my role in that.”

I asked Trainor what she felt were the biggest changes since she originally began what has become the AAA league for professional women’s golf.

“Certainly, the purses are the biggest change,” she said. “When we started out, the number of players we could attract was very small. It took us probably 10 years before we started to have full tournaments with 144 players. There just weren’t that many young players looking to play pro golf back then. Now, they have qualifiers for the qualifiers to even get a chance to play on the Symetra Tour. It’s all about the numbers.”

The other major change over the years is the type of players and their skill level.

“The competitiveness and quality of play has improved — absolutely,” Trainor said. “There are more great players and more competition than ever.”
Trainor was asked about some of her favorite players, or a few who made the most impact on her over the years, and it didn’t take her long to give me a very solid list.

“I would say I’m very proud of Tammie Green, who played two full years with us,” Trainor recalled about the tour’s all-time victory leader with 11. “She played a half-year one season and then came back for another. She played superbly, but she failed to get her LPGA papers in and couldn’t get into qualifying. So she played another year for us. We were very happy to have her. She was a class act and a great player. She won the most money on our tour. She hung around and eventually got on the LPGA Tour.”

Another name that longtime followers of the Symetra Tour will recognize is Marilyn Lovander, who won the local stop twice at Town of Colonie Golf Course and remains on the Symetra Tour’s all-list for many statistical categories, including most lopsided victory (10 strokes).

“Marilyn was a dominating player here, and she finally got on the LPGA Tour,” Trainor said. “She played with us in a bunch of seasons. She worked hard on her game. She just loves the sport. She eventually got her LPGA card and did very well. She’s still playing in some senior events.”

Although Trainor was no longer personally involved with the Symetra Tour by the time Inbee Park played here, Park made quite an impression.

“I just love her swing and I love her pace of play,” Trainor said of the multiple major champion on the LPGA Tour. “I saw her three years ago in Florida, and she’s was a grinder. She’s definitely a great player.”

Another player Trainor will never forget is the multi-talented and extremely intense Pepper, who ranks among the best athletes to ever come out of the Capital Region.

“I’m so proud of Dottie Pepper,” Trainor said, “She played on our tour as an amateur, and she won. We didn’t make her a great player. She was already great. But I’m proud of having Dottie on our tour and then making a career in golf and beyond. She’s an incredible person and a fantastic on-air commentator. She’s just perfect in that role. She is very well prepared.”

This week’s Twin Bridges Championship, presented by NYSCOPBA and CDPHP Friday through Sunday, will have a 144-player field and a total purse of $175,000, with $26,250 going to the winner. Featured will be 14-year-old Kennedy Swedick of Albany, who earned a sponsor’s exemption. She shot a 5-over-par 76 in last year’s pro-am here. The Albany Academy standout was the first Section II girls’ individual champion two years ago. Earlier this week, she made it to the match-play portion of the prestigious U.S. Junior Girls Amateur Championship and won her opening match. She also made it to the finals of last year’s Notah Begay Junior Championship.

“As the longest running tournament host city, the history of the Symetra Tour and its pipeline of creating future stars is intertwined with Albany,” said Mike Nichols, Chief Business Officer of the LPGA Qualifying Tours in a press release. “The addition of Pinehaven Country Club to this storied history will give our players a new challenge as well as a fresh opportunity for our sponsors to enjoy.”

Longtime local tournament director Jim Miller is excited that the Symetra Tour is returning to the area. “After a year without the Symetra Tour in the Capital Region, we could not be more excited to welcome back the future stars of the LPGA Tour,” Miller said.

Heading into last week’s event in Rochester, the top five players on the Symetra Tour money list are Casey Danielson ($77,034), Ruixin Liu ($74,442), Maude-Aimee Leblanc ($70,424), Fatima Fernandez-Cano ($68,720) and Morgane Metraux ($63,536).

CHIP SHOTS

The local golf community is mourning the loss of standout left-hander Glenn Stopera, who died last weekend after a brief illness at the age of 67. Stopera, part of a huge family of superb athletes, was not only an excellent player who contended in both the Schenectady Classic and the Schenectady Senior Classic, but he was an outstanding basketball coach who helped guide Scotia-Glenville to the state championship as an assistant coach. I will miss him tremendously, as he always made it a point to stop by and talk about golf – and basketball.

AJ Cavotta of Saratoga Springs, Ryan Lovelass of Galway, Jim Gifford of Ballston Lake, Dan Ireland of Wynantskill, Lance Hope of Schenectady, Jack Downey (Country Club of Troy) and Brian Williams of Greenwich will be in the 71-player field vying for three spots in Monday’s 2021 U.S. Amateur 36-hole sectional qualifier at Seven Oaks Golf Club in Hamilton. The U.S. Amateur will be held Aug. 9-15 at Oakmont Country Club.

Saratoga Spa Golf Course assistant pro Scott Berliner, the 10-time Northeastern New York PGA Player of the Year, finished fifth at this week’s NYS Open at Bethpage State Park’s Black Course. Berliner played the 54-hole event at 1-under-par. Woodstock GC head pro Chris Sanger was tied for 33rd at 9-over-par, and AJ Cavotta of Saratoga Springs was tied for 37th at 10-over-par.

Nicole Criscone of Clifton Park tied for third place in the AJGA tournament at Chicopee, Massachusetts, this week. That finish gave her full exempted status for the rest of the AJGA events this season.

A handful of local pros, including Chris Sanger of the host club and Michael Shine of Schuyler Meadows, will be competing in the 86th annual Woodstock Open Monday at Woodstock Golf Club.

Entries are now being accepted for the Schenectady Senior Classic Aug. 5-6 at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course. Cost is $50 per player or $35 for pass holders. There will be a cut after the first round, Net prizes also will be available for those with USGA handicaps, Entry fees are payable via cash or check. Contact Schenectady Municipal Golf Course at 518-382-5155 for more information. Tom Salmon is the defending champion.

Van Patten Golf Club hosts the Ralph Maru Classic 36-Hole Ringer tournament Saturday and Sunday. Cost is $125 per player ($50 for members) and the price includes cart and a small bucket of range balls. Contact Van Patten GC for more information at 518-877-5400.

Town of Colonie Golf Course will host the third annual Albany Twilight League Alumni Golf Classic Aug. 27 at 9 a.m. Entry fee is $100 and includes cart, longest drive and closest-to-the-pin contests and lunch after golf. Entry deadline is Aug. 8. Make checks payable Albany Twilight League and send payment to Bill Levy, ATL Alumni Association, 21 Tattersall Lane, Albany, N.Y. 12205.

HOLES-IN-ONE

Paula Martin recorded her first hole-in-one on the 120-yard sixth hole at Hiland Park Country Club.

Gary Pope aced the 145-yard sixth hole with a 5-iron at Eagle Crest Golf Club.

At Briar Creek Golf Course, Mark Matteo used an 8-iron for his ace on the 145-yard fifth hole.

Tim Ward recorded his fourth career hole-in-one with a 9-iron on the 130-yard ninth hole at Pinehaven Country Club.

EAGLES

Shea Bromirski eagled the par-5 13th hole with a wedge shot at Mechanicville Golf Club.

Gerry Hisert holed out for an eagle-2 on the par-4 18th hole in the ROB league at Cobleskill Golf & Country Club.

Tom Gatta eagled the par-5 ninth hole at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course while playing in the Maqua Major league.

Reach Bob Weiner at [email protected].

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