WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) – It's not the big money, must-attend event it once was, but the LPGA Tour is back on the River Course at Kingsmill this week, and for many, it's a return to one of their favorite stops on tour.
It's also part of a resurgence in the women's game, so much so that a purse that has fallen from $2.2 million when the tour last visited to $1.3 million this time around hardly seems to matter to the field.
Cristie Kerr won twice on the layout when the tournament was sponsored by Anheuser-Busch.
“I think nobody's looked forward to it more than me,'' she said Wednesday. “I've got great memories here and I stay with a great family … and it's such a great time. The golf course is one of my favorites. It's about my favorite on tour, and I've just got good feelings all around when I come here.''
The Bermuda rough is more prevalent than Kerr remembers, and rain in recent days has made it tougher still. But she also hopes her return might help her end a winless drought that started in 2010.
“I felt that walking around the golf course today,'' she said. “Yeah, I want to win really bad. It's getting to the point where, OK, it's time for one. I'm doing everything in my power to do it, you know?
“It's just got to happen now.''
It might help Kerr's cause that the field isn't as strong as in years past, with only three of the top 10 players in the world. Among the missing are former champions Se Ri Pak, Karrie Webb and Suzann Pettersen, and top-ranked Yani Tseng, who decided to prepare this week for her title defense in the Women's British Open.
The 10th-ranked Kerr, who won in 2005 and 2009, is in the field along with second-ranked Stacy Lewis and No. 5 Ai Miyazato. Others among the favorites of Kingsmill's horde of volunteers and fans are Natalie Gulbis, Paula Creamer, Juli Inkster and Michelle Wie, who has only one top-10 finish this season.
The tour hopes the field will be stronger next year, when the event will be held in May.
Lexi Thompson knew the event's reputation before she arrived.
“I've heard a lot of great things about the event, just run so well and they have a lot of activities off the golf course, going to Busch Gardens and everything,'' she said before Wednesday's pro-am.
“I hear a lot of fans come out and I've gotten to interact with a few of them already. The course is in great shape – a little wet, but it's playing pretty hard, so definitely a little longer.''
Kerr found it the same way, and was hoping forecast for overnight rain would be wrong.
“They got a lot of rain on Saturday and Sunday. It's started to dry out,'' she said. “The greens are starting to get a little faster, a little bit more smooth, and they should be better by tomorrow.''
Inkster, along with Kerr, Gulbis, Angela Stafford and Lorena Ochoa are the only players to make every cut at Kingsmill, said the course along the James River – and many of those in and around Virginia – reminded her of the places where she grew up playing, with smaller greens and rewards for directional control.
“It's a good ball-strikers' golf course,'' Inkster said. “It seems like every day it changes a little bit with the wind. When we played in May, you could get one of those nor'easters coming through.''
Play on the 6,384-yard, par-71 layout starts Thursday.