One of the great things of watching women's golf live, apart from the beauty of some of the women themselves, is seeing them play up-close.
With the exception of a few LPGA Tour events, the crowds are usually modest or small, which means fans can get right up against the ropes for an unimpeded view of the game's best female players at work.
The only way to be any closer to them sometimes would be to go inside the ropes.
Well, that's possible, too.
The Manulife Financial LPGA Classic is offering regular golfers like you and me a chance to play alongside some of the LPGA stars in its pro-am, held July 8, just before the tournament at Grey Silo Golf Club in Waterloo, Ont., begins its competitive rounds.
Sixty spots are available.
Pro-ams are commonplace on the LPGA, PGA and other tours. They generate the bulk of the money that tournaments donate to charity.
But the pro-am entrant fees are often prohibitively expensive and getting a spot can be a mysterious process. Not so at the Manulife Classic.
The cost is by no means cheap – $1,500 a person – but it includes golf, breakfast, on-course hospitality, a luncheon and cocktail reception, gift package and four any-day tournament passes.
And of course the chance to play golf with one of the best female players on the planet.
"The golfers last year were amazed at the quality of play they witnessed and the friendly, approachable manner of the pros," says Peter Sweeney, executive director of St. Mary's General Hospital Foundation, which receives charitable proceeds from the event. "This is unlike any other golfing experience."
GOING LOW Graham DeLaet's five-under-par 65 at the Honda Classic on Thursday tied his lowest score of the year on the PGA Tour. But it wasn't a career-best. The long bomber from Weyburn, Sask., posted a 10-under 62 at the Reno-Tahoe Open in 2010, his rookie year on tour.
LAB ON WHEELS The PGA Tour Canada might be the minor leagues of golf, but its players this year will get big-league equipment service.
The tour said this week that The Golf Lab will have its new equipment trailer at each tournament across Canada to supply players with club fitting and repair services.
The Golf Lab, founded by pro Liam Mucklow, is an indoor training and club-fitting centre in Vaughn, Ont. It recently unveiled a spiffy new 37-foot mobile trailer that includes two trackman monitors, three-dimensional motion capture technology, high-speed video, a players lounge with WiFi and TV, and a fully functional club-building shop.
"We're looking to improve the players' tournament experience as much as we can for 2013," tour president Jeff Monday said.
The PGA Tour Canada season begins at the Times Colonist Island Savings Open on June 6 in Victoria.
HERO TO ZERO: Shane Lowry went from a match-play darling to an also-ran in just a few days. Such is the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately nature of tour golf.
Last week, the cheery and rotund Irishman knocked off world No. 1 Rory McIlroy in the first round of the Accenture Match Play Championship, then defeated Carl Pettersson to advance to the third round.
Lowry lost his third-round match to Graeme McDowell, who like McIlrory is a North Irishman and friend of Lowry's, but he displayed a charming sense of sportsmanship by staying to cheer on McDowell from outside the ropes in the fourth round.
But with a new week, Lowry's new-found fame in North America entitled him to nothing. The European Tour regular was at the Honda Classic's qualifying tournament Monday trying to squeeze into the field of the PGA Tour event.
Lowry came up one stroke short, shooting four-under-par 67 to tie for fifth place among the 117 vying for four berths.
Alex Noren of Sweden and Welshman Jamie Donaldson, both of whom also competed in the Match Play in Arizona last week, were more fortunate. They each shot 66 to grab berths along with Americans Darron Stiles and Vaughn Taylor.
Derek Gillespie (69) of Oshawa, Ont., Matt Hill (71) of Sarnia, Ont., Ben Silverman (72) of Toronto, Jon Mills (72) of Belleville, Ont., and Yohann Benson (75) of Montreal also didn't make it through.
The Honda Classic begins Thursday in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Louis Oosthuizen are among those scheduled to play. Canada will be represented by Stephen Ames, Graham DeLaet, Brad Fritsch, David Hearn and Mike Weir.
SEA CHANGES The Great Lakes Tour, a mini-tour based in Ontario, is changing hands.
Tour founders Dennis Hendershott and Kara Kelly say they've sold the 13-year-old circuit to the father-and-son team of John and David Brisson John is a retired financier and David is a former GLT player and pro who also has experience as a sports and media executive.
Hendershott said his other golf occupation, running the Golf Town National Amateur Series, has grown so much that he doesn't have time to do both any more.
"The amateur component of our business has exploded, and our focus has to shift," Hendershott said of the 110-event national amateur tour.
Among the Brissons' plans are a new player advisory board and an 18-event schedule for 2013. Dates and venues are to be announced this week.
The tour has given dozens of local pros a chance to compete and develop their games over the years. Club pros such as Brian McCann, Danny King and Danny Mijovic have been regulars. Tour players who've passed through have included Brad Fritsch, David Hearn, Rod Spittle, Derek Gillespie and Michael Gligic.
SHARP RISE Alena Sharp of Hamilton climbed 14 spots in the world ranking Monday to No. 291 after placing second Sunday at the VisitMesa.com Gateway Classic, the season opener on the second-tier Symetra Tour.
GOING LONG Lorie Kane of Charlottetown might be 48 but she's keeping up with girls half her age in the driving department.
The four-time LPGA Tour winner is averaging 263.5 yards off the tee this year, which puts her at No. 13 on the list -- 11 yards behind leader Daniella Iacobelli but just half a yard shy of world No. 1 Yani Tseng.
Kane has said an improved fitness regimen and work with swing instructor Sean Foley have contributed to her remaining relevant with her driver.
SECOND BEST: Alena Sharp came up a couple of shots short on Sunday of winning her first career Symetra Tour event.
Entering the final round of the inaugural VisitMesa.com Gateway Classic tied for the lead, the Hamilton native shot a respectable one-under-par 71 in cool and breezy conditions at Longbow Golf Club in Mesa, Ariz. She finished the 54-hole event at five-under 211.
But she was overtaken by American Jacyln Sweeney, who birdied three of her final four holes to shoot a third-round-best 67 and claim her second Symetra trophy.
Sharp is an LPGA Tour regular who skipped the long trip to Australia and Asia for the first few events of its 2013 season. Instead, she's been sharpening her game in Arizona, where she makes her home now. She won a mini-tour event last week and nearly made it two in a row Sunday.
She plans to make her LPGA season debut at the RR Donnelley LPGA Founders Cup next month in Phoenix.
She wasn't the only Canadian in the money on Sunday. Samantha Richdale of Kelowna tied for ninth place at one over to record her 13th career top-10 finish on the Symetra.
Sue Kim of Langley, B.C., fell out of the top 10 with a final-round 78 that left her tied for 21st place at four over.
Nicole Vandermade of Brantford, Ont., shared 30th place at six over and Izzy Beisiegel of Saint-Hilaire, Que., was another two shots back tied for 37th.
The Symetra Tour resumes action in about a month at the Florida's Natural Charity Classic in Winter Haven, Fla.
Sweeney, who captured her first Symetra title in Albany, N.Y. last year, earned $15,000 (U.S.) and an invitation to the LPGA's RR Donnelley. Sharp collected a cheque for $9,367.
"It was a great feeling," Sweeney told symetratour.com. "I wasn't as nervous as I was in Albany because I hit such a good shot in to the 18th hole and I played really smart today. I have played so much golf in the wind in Florida and it was really windy today so I think that helped."
ANOTHER BRIDESMAID Lorie Kane also came within two shots of hoisting a trophy on Sunday.
The Charlottetown veteran finished in second place at the Walgreens Charity Classic in Sun City West, Ariz.
Making one of her occasional starts on the Legends Tour for women 45 and older, Kane shot three-under 69 on Sunday to finish the 36-hole tournament at three-under 141. Michele Redman of the United States wrapped up at five under to claim victory and the $30,000 (U.S.) first prize in the Legends season opener. Kane won $16,000.
Dawn Coe-Jones of Campbell River, B.C., tied for 20th place and Gail Graham of Winnipeg shared 33rd.
TOUGH CROWD Shane Lowry, Marcus Fraser, Marcel Siem, Jamie Donaldson, George Coetzee and Alex Noren were good enough to play last week in the Accenture Match Play Championship, which invites the top 64 players in the world.
But if the international players want to keep playing in North America this week, they'll have to earn their keep.
Irishman Lowry, who upset world No. 1 Rory McIlroy in the first round at Match Play, and the others are entered in the Honda Classic's Monday qualifier at Mayacoo Lakes Country Club in West Palm Beach, Fla. Each is hoping to emerge from the field of 117 qualifiers to grab one of just four berths into the Honda, which begins Thursday and kicks off the PGA Tour's Florida swing.
Canada is well-represented at the qualifier, too: Yohann Benson, Matt Hill, Derek Gillespie, Jon Mills and Ben Silverman all have tee times Monday.
The qualifier, held in a hotbed of golf talent, looks almost like a regular PGA Tour event, so deep is the talent.
Veterans Mark Calcavecchia, Billy Mayfair, Lee Janzen and Nick O'Hern are entered, as are rising stars Ben Kohles and Alistair Presnell.
GLIGIC CASHES Michael Gligic of Burlington, Ont., salvaged his trip to South Africa with a tie for 49th place at the Dimension Data Pro-Am on Sunday.
The PGA Tour of Canada player, who missed the cut in his first two South African starts this month, shot one-over-par 73 during the final round to finish the 72-hole Sunshine Tour event at two-under 287, 15 shots behind winner Jaco Van Zyl of South Africa.
Gligic won the equivalent of about $1,900.
Alan McLean, a Scot who lives in London, Ont., finished at five under tied for 36th spot.
CANADIAN CONNECTIONS Accenture Match Play Championship winner Matt Kuchar and runner-up Hunter Mahan are both sponsored by Royal Bank of Canada. Their showdown Sunday afternoon in the event's final match gave the RBC logo lots of television exposure.
Mahan's connection to Canada doesn't end there. His swing coach is Sean Foley and his trainer and therapist is Craig Davies, both of whom are Canadians.
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