Cost of admission

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The road to LPGA Q-School is well-marked. Take a left off I-92 onto LPGA Blvd., turn right past LPGA headquarters, straight toward the parking lot of LPGA International. Sounds like the perfect spot for LPGA hopefuls to launch their professional careers. A place where veteran members can feel right at home.

Except there’s one problem: The LPGA Tour has absolutely nothing to do with LPGA International. The course licenses the tour’s name and nothing else.

“I’ve never felt welcome here,” said Beth Bader, a tour veteran who is caddying this week for Jean Bartholomew.

Seems a rather strange statement, coming from an LPGA player, but Bader wasn’t the only one feeling the non-love.

Complaints began earlier in the week, when players were forced to pay a full green fee (plus cart fee) to play a practice round prior to Monday. That’s $74.95 plus tax, for those keeping score at home.

Walking is not allowed at LPGA International, in part because the Legends and Champions courses are extremely long from green to tee. If a player wanted her caddie or a parent to come along for a practice round over the weekend, she had to pay a $32 cart fee.

No walkers allowed.

Mary Hafeman, a former LPGA player who is now the director of golf, said it’s because of insurance reasons that they don’t allow walkers.

In retrospect, Hafeman said allowing non-players to take a cart probably wasn’t the best idea, because both courses keep only 80 carts apiece. Caddies might have to bring their own clubs next year if they hope to get out on the course before Monday’s official practice round.

LPGA players are given a whopping three free rounds at LPGA International annually. They also have use of the practice facilities, including the back of the range, with the exception of this week.

Siew-Ai Lim didn’t know about the cart fee when she arrived Sunday for the day’s first tee time. Pro shop attendees comped her round and sent her to the first tee with her caddie. When Lim walked off the second green, the starter was waiting to inform her that she needed to pay the cart fee for her caddie. Lim offered to pay at the end of the round, but the pro shop insisted she pay immediately before continuing her round.

“The fact that you don’t trust members of the LPGA to abide by a professional code of conduct kind of worries me,” said Lim, who sent her caddie in with her credit card. “I’m here all week. It’s not like you can’t find me.”

Lim’s story spread down the range like wildfire, giving players yet another reason to feel unwanted.

Last year, Lisa Fernandes went to another course in the area to practice before the tournament. She was treated like a queen.

Come back any time, they said.

“We’re LPGA players,” Fernandes said. “It’s LPGA International and we don’t feel welcome here. I could call most places and get on for a cart fee.”

Amie Cochran was sitting in the snackshop having a bowl of chili following her first round and immediately sat this reporter down to rattle off a list of complaints. Cochran arrived in Daytona earlier than most and estimates she’s spent $400 tuning up for the event.

And speaking of lunch, Cochran paid $3 for the iced tea she was sipping. On Wednesday, players were shocked to find a shoddy menu taped over the top of the existing one in the heavily-trafficked snack bar. The “Q-School Menu” featured $3 sodas and $10 sandwiches, served with chips and a drink.

Lorraine Vosmik, director of club operations, said the limited menu was being offered in an attempt to expedite service. When asked why the prices rivaled Disney, Vosmik said they hadn’t changed. A soda, however, normally goes for $2.50.

“We included tax and a tip,” she said. “And we didn’t want to deal with change.”

Except they forgot to note that on the new menu and left the tip jar on the counter. A small salad every other week of the year costs $5.50. This week, $7. And the service? There is none.

“No one’s been nice at this course,” Cochran said matter-of-factly. “Is unaccommodating a word?”

Why yes, Aimee, it is. In fact, it’s the perfect word to describe how players felt later that afternoon when they learned the range closed at 4 p.m., an hour and a half before daylight ends. Attendants walked up and down the range warning players that the range would close in 30 minutes.

“I was appalled,” said Bader, who was on the range with Bartholomew working out the kinks of an opening 4-over 76.

Hafeman said that in order for the range to be picked and the balls cleaned in time for a 6:30 a.m. start, it must close at 4 p.m. The hours, however, were extended to 4:30 p.m. Thursday after the round was delayed due to fog.

“How about a continuous picker this week?” asked Bader, pointing to an empty picker sitting by a tree near the range. Sounds like a reasonable suggestion.

If all this sounds rather petty, consider this: It cost non-members $5,000 to play here this week if they played both qualifiers, $4,000 if they played in one. Members paid $2,500.

Down the road at Orange County National, the men are playing for PGA Tour cards this week. The cost? $4,500 if players met the first deadline of Sept. 12. (At PGA Tour Q-School, players must go through two stages before reaching the final at Orange County.)

PGA Tour players who arrived before the first official practice round Sunday paid $40 to play, and their caddies could either walk or ride for free. Non-members paid between $80 and $110, depending on the day.

The range stayed open until the last man walked off, and a soda at the snack shop cost $2, the regular price. That’s at OCN, not PGA. By the way, PGA Tour members have full privileges at any of the Tour's TPC network of courses, including the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass.

Libba Galloway, the LPGA’s deputy commissioner, didn’t want to comment on the frustration of players until she’d spoken with them herself. There’s been a huge turnover at LPGA International in the last year since the former director of golf, Nancy Henderson, left to work for the tour. Even tour employees have felt the sting of its new management in recent months.

It makes sense for the LPGA to host its qualifying school here every year, but if they can’t accommodate the players or make them feel welcome, perhaps it’s time to find a new venue.

The slogan at LPGA International is “Come play where the pros play.”  But as one tour caddie wrote in his blog, a more accurate description might be “Come play where the pros pay.”

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