The Island Resort Championship is returning to its annual spot on the Epson Tour schedule this summer and organizers are hoping this year’s event will be one of the biggest and best ever.
To start, this year’s total purse for the June 24-26 championship has been increased to $212,500.
“Our goal every year is to beat their top spot on Tour,” said Tony Mancilla, general manager of the host property, Island Resort and Casino in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Like many stops on the Epson Tour, the growth has been promising. The Island Resort stop is approaching nearly double the purse it had during its inaugural event back in 2011. And this year’s Tour schedule consists of 21 events culminating with Epson Tour Championship in October. It had just 15 scheduled events 11 years ago.
The Island Resort Championship host course, Sweetgrass, is adjacent to the hotel casino property. It is regarded by many as one of the best courses on Tour. Not only are the on-site accommodations, dining and entertainment options convenient for the players, but also the course conditions provide a fair and challenging test.
“It’s a really good golf course,” said Tour player Sophie Hausmann. “It’s in great shape. And I think for us, for Tour players, it’s always a fair game if the greens are rolling good and if you get solid lies. You want to hit it in the right spots on the greens. But then you can really get opportunities and go low. And on the other hand, it’s an open golf course. If the wind picks up, it will be a great challenge. But overall it’s nice that you can stay here, you don’t have to get a rental car, you can just walk out to the course and you don’t have to drive another half an hour or something. So, sometimes just those little things, especially if you’re on a tournament stretch, it’s just nice to go out, take a break and then go back out.”
Hausmann has been among the top 10 money earners on the Epson Tour this season. Last year she won the IOA Championship in just her second year on Tour. It was her first win as a professional coming off a standout career at the University of Idaho and helped her finish 22nd on the 2021 money list (at $53,864). The top 10 at season’s end earn playing status on the LPGA Tour for the following season.
“(Sweetgrass) identifies the best players on this Tour,” said Mancilla. “And what I mean is that seven of our 10 champions earned LPGA cards. The average is about 20% who will either go through the Tour or Q-School to get their card. There’s a lot of players not on our wall (of champions) that are major champions on the LPGA. Nelly Korda, Hannah Green, Sophia Popov, Brooke Henderson, you’ve heard of them – they finished in the top 10 of our event.”
It was also announced on media day in early June that the championship granted special exemptions to two players – Bobbi Stricker and Jordy LaBarbera. Stricker, the daughter of 2020 Ryder Cup captain and 12-time PGA Tour winner Steve Stricker, turned pro after playing at the University of Wisconsin and winning the Wisconsin State Women’s Amateur in 2021. LaBarbera played at the University of Arkansas and was a two-time state champion in Texas before turning pro. Her family has ties to Marinette, Wisconsin, which is an hour’s drive away from Island Resort.
Starting with the Ann Arbor Tour stop, a stretch of five in six events on the Epson Tour schedule this summer are held in the Midwest. After the Island Resort Championship (June 24-26), there are stops in Battle Creek, Michigan (July 29-31, FireKeepers Casino Hotel Championship), French Lick, Indiana (Aug. 4-7, French Lick Charity Championship) and South Bend, Indiana (Aug. 12-14, Four Winds Invitational).
Island Resort and Casino recently finished a hotel expansion, the addition of a pool and indoor waterpark features and a new upscale restaurant – the Horizons Steakhouse – which offers views from the top of the hotel. The hotel now has 454 guest rooms and suites and also features a spa, multiple other dining options, entertainment and of course, casino gaming.
While highly-ranked Sweetgrass Golf Club (www.islandresortgolf.com/sweetgrass) is on property, the Resort’s other course is less than a 10-minute drive away. Sage Run (www.islandresortgolf.com/sage-run-golf-club) opened four years ago and has already gained acclaim for its rugged layout, a contrast to Sweetgrass. Several holes are defined by a large drumlin feature which runs through the property.
Tickets for the Island Resort Championship can be obtained by calling 1-877-ISL-SHOW or 906-466-2491 (Ext. 5001). More information can also be found at www.islandresortgolf.com/island-resort-championship.