Women’s Golf: Sugar Grove’s Rich Harvest Farms will host International Crown in 2016

Sweden's Anna Nordqvist chips from the sand on the fourth hole during the final round of the inaugural International Crown golf tournament last Sunday. The biennial tournament will be held in Sugar Grove in 2016. |  Gail Burton/AP
Sweden's Anna Nordqvist chips from the sand on the fourth hole during the final round of the inaugural International Crown golf tournament last Sunday. The biennial tournament will be held in Sugar Grove in 2016. | Gail Burton/AP

Growing up in Naperville, Mike Whan logged many a round of golf at Aurora’s Phillips Park.

At that time Sugar Grove, farther west, was foreign to him.

Now the commissioner of the Ladies Professional Golf Association, Whan touts Sugar Grove’s Rich Harvest Farms as one of the top 10 golf venues in the world.

“When you’re coming in from O’Hare it’s an incredible journey to get here,” Whan said, “but when you get here it’s like mecca to a golfer.”

And in two years, Rich Harvest Farms will be a destination for one of the LPGA’s newest, most unique events.

The second edition of the LPGA-sanctioned International Crown is coming to Rich Harvest Farms in July 2016.

The biennial team match play competition featuring the best female golfers from the top eight countries around the world just completed its inaugural event last weekend at Caves Valley Golf Club outside Baltimore. There Team Spain prevailed over Team Sweden in the final day of singles matches.

Hotel Arista in Naperville on Friday hosted a luncheon launching the 2016 International Crown. Whan described an event that a comparable worldwide showcase like the Olympics can’t compare to in terms of team dynamics, “the nervousness and excitement of playing as a team, the nervousness of not only letting your team down but your country is also watching.”

“We’re giving them that here,” Whan said. “We talked about giving Chicago the Olympics it didn’t get.”

The field of eight countries will be determined in December 2015, based on the Rolex World Rankings of the top four players from each country. The final 32-golfer field will be set later in 2016.

Women’s golf since 1990 has held a similar match-play competition, the Solheim Cup, which pits top U.S. golfers against their counterparts from Europe. That tournament, though, has not accounted for the explosion, the near-dominance, by Asian golfers in today’s world rankings. Of the eight teams at last week’s International Crown, four — Korea, Japan, Thailand and Taiwan — hailed from Asia.

Rich Harvest Farms, consistently ranked in the list of Golf Digest’s top 100 courses in the country, is no stranger to big events.

It hosted the Solheim Cup in 2009, and the home of Northern Illinois University golf held an NCAA Division I regional in May.

It will also be the site of the 2015 Palmer Cup, an annual team competition between American college golfers and European college/university golfers.

In 2009 more than 100,000 fans traveled to Sugar Grove for the Solheim Cup.

“Chicago is the greatest place in the world if you love golf,” said Rich Harvest Farms owner Jerry Rich. “We have great golf fans here.”

Anna Nordqvist is one golfer glad to see the LPGA return to Sugar Grove.

A three-time member of the European Solheim Cup team who led Sweden to second last week in Maryland, the Arizona State alum first was invited to play at Rich Harvest Farms in May of 2009 after she turned pro. Three weeks later she won her first major.

“Coming to Rich Harvest Farms boosted my career. It inspired me,” Nordqvist said. “It’s a great course and great facility; I’ve yet to see one that compares.”

Nordqvist spoke Friday of the need to grow and promote golf among young women.

To that end, Rich is inviting every female golfer from the 1,800 high schools with teams from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan to come to the 2016 International Crown, where they will be housed by NIU and Aurora University.

“It’s all about the growth of the game, and getting the youth involved,” said Rich, an NIU alum. “This is going to be one of the greatest events ever in golf in the city of Chicago and Sugar Grove.”

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