LPGA Prospects Praise Course Conditions While Playing Through Stormy Weather
HOWEY-IN-THE-HILLS — The El Campeon golf course and grounds crew handled stormy weather like it never happened Friday during the Epson Tour Inova Mission Inn Resort & Club Championship opening round.
Heavy rains the day and night before, and more rain with lightning that delayed play mid-round for about an hour, did not impact the 6,735-yard, par-73 course, one of Florida’s oldest, having opened for play in 1917.
Jiwon Jeon birdied two of her last three holes for the opening-round lead with a 7-under-par 66
Three shots back and tied for second place at 4-under-par 69 are Ana Belac, Laetitia Beck, and Nataliya Guseva. Four others finished Friday at 3-under-par 70, while ten players are within five shots of the lead at minus-two. They include Epson points leader Gabriela Ruffels, No. 2 Natasha Andrea Oon, No. 3 Jenny Coleman, and fifth-ranked Gigi Stoll.
“There were a couple of spots that are wet, but for the most part, the course has held up really well with all the rain we’ve gotten,” said Coleman, who won last week’s event in Orlando with a birdie on the first hole of a three-way playoff. “The greens were medium. Not slow, not fast, just medium.
“Solid day, hit the ball well. Lots of easy pars. A few birdies out there and only a couple of mistakes. Given the conditions, a solid day.”
“From how much rain I heard they have gotten the last few days, the course condition was actually really nice,” said Jess Peng, who shot a 3-over 76. “Even though we played lift, clean and place, most of the time there was not even mud on my ball. And the greens still kept their speed and they were holding great.”
The biggest weather factor was the wind, which grew stronger during the day and made club selection a guessing game for many players.
“This morning there was no wind, but as soon as we went back out to play (after the delay), my first hole, I had 120 yards to the pin into the wind and I needed to play it 130,” said Peng, who was even par through her first 11 holes when play was stopped. “My next hole, the wind was blowing across and it pushed my ball 15 yards right and out of bounds. It went from no wind this morning to like 15 mph. But that was on me. I should have picked that up faster.”
On the par-3 eighth hole, Peng, who started on the back nine, said one of the players in her threesome hit a great shot, but the wind knocked it down, and the ball fell into the water in front of the green.
“It didn’t even touch the green. And I was like, ‘Wow, 120 into the wind.’ That’s how strong the wind was,” said Peng, a Mississippi State graduate who is in her second year on tour. I asked my caddie, ‘How does it sound to hit it like 135?’ And guess what happened? Mine barely passed the water. It was on the fringe of the green. My heart stopped for a second on No. 8.”
About Mission Inn Resort & Club
Mission Inn Resort & Club has distinct Spanish Colonial architecture and offers 176 hotel guest rooms: 131 deluxe rooms, 38 club suites, four one-bedroom suites, two two-bedroom suites, and one penthouse suite with three bedrooms.
In addition to the two championship golf courses, the resort also features four restaurants, two lounges, and a poolside bar. Its recreational amenities include tennis, pickleball, jogging and bicycling trails, volleyball courts, an outdoor pool, a spa, a fitness center, and a marina offering pontoons, bass boats, and kayaks for eco-touring. More than 30,000 square feet of well-appointed indoor and outdoor event space is available for meetings, banquets, holiday parties, weddings, and special occasions.
The El Campeón layout, built in 1917 by George O’Neil, is one of the oldest courses in the South with a classic design featuring unusually sharp elevation changes in the typically flat central Florida terrain. It has hosted multiple high school, college, and state professional tournaments.
In contrast, Las Colinas (The Hills) was created in 1992 by former PGA Tour winner Gary Koch, and it lives up to its name with wide fairways rolling over gentle rises. Both courses at Mission Inn are known for their undulating greens, which are surrounded by tropical vegetation and incorporate large water hazards on many holes.
About The Epson Tour
The Epson Tour is the official qualifying tour of the LPGA Tour and enters its 43rd competitive season in 2023. With the support of the entitlement partner Seiko Epson Corporation, the Tour’s mission is to prepare the world’s best female professional golfers for a successful career on the LPGA Tour. In the last decade, the Epson Tour has grown from 15 tournaments and $1.6 million in prize money to $4.9 million awarded across 20+ events in 2023. With more than 600 graduates and alumnae moving on to the LPGA Tour, former Epson Tour players have won 466 LPGA titles.
Photo credit Ben Harpring, Epson Tour