LPGA returns to Ocala 

A.J. Piller, 2 1/2, runs ahead of the ball as his mother, Gerina Piller, an LPGA golfer from Roswell, N.M., practices putting on Wednesday, one day before the LPGA Drive On Championship presented by Volvik at the Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club kicks off. The tournament will run through Sunday. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]
Maria Torres spent four years on the women’s golf team at the University of Florida, and the Gators would visit Golden Ocala Golf Club during the preseason for qualifying rounds.

“Last night before going to bed I was like laying down and I was like, oh, I remember this and like when we were like practicing or even going to classes,” Torres said. “It was nice, that memory lane. I’m excited to go back.”

The city of Ocala is also excited that the LPGA is back in town for the first time since 2016 for the Drive On Championship presented by Volvik at Golden Ocala. The course hosted the Coates Golf Championship in 2015 and 2016, but the LPGA hasn’t been back to Marion County since then.

With the pandemic affecting the LPGA’s scheduling, it created opportunities for new events, like returning to Ocala after a four-year hiatus.

“I think it’s a really good thing for us,” said Joe Donnelly Golden Ocala general manager. “We love having it, you know, it was very successful the first two years they’re here. The girls like playing here, and yeah, it’s a great thing. We’re really excited for them.”

The four-round tournament starts on Thursday morning and runs through Sunday. Fan attendance has been limited to members of the golf club. However, the tournament will have national exposure on the Golf Channel throughout the weekend.

Jennifer Song, an LPGA golfer from Orlando, practices putting as her caddy, Andy Techmeier, watches on a practice green as golf professionals get ready for the LPGA Drive On Championship presented by Volvik at the Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club in Ocala, Fla. on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. The four-round LPGA golf tournament starts on Thursday and ends on Sunday. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.
“I think probably the most important thing is the visibility that it provides,” said Kevin Sheilley, the president and CEO of Ocala Metro Chamber & Economic Partnership. “Having the golfers here, having the women’s golf world specifically and even more generally the golf world overall focused on Ocala, obviously it doesn’t do anything but help our community.”

Sheilley pointed out that, even without large crowds, the golfers and crew will spend money locally. But the national exposure should reap benefits.

“I’m a little selfish here, I hope we have beautiful weather the rest of the week, and that the rest of the country has another snow or ice storm,” Sheilley said. “Because if they get to sit and see sunny Ocala, Florida, while they’re suffering in cold, it probably makes us really, really attractive and helps us stay in front of mind for them.”

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