By Brynn Walker
Galloway, N.J. -- In the world of professional golf, having a home course advantage is a rare occurrence. While some tournaments may occasionally take place on a player'shome turf, more often than not, the feeling of being at home is created by the tournament itself.
Such is the case for BrookeHenderson and MeaghanFrancella at the prestigious ShopRite LPGA Classic Presented by Acer. As a previous playerin the event, I can attest to the senseof belonging that permeates the atmosphere.
Brooke Henderson first set foot on the grounds of Seaview Golf Resort in 2015, receiving a sponsor exemption to compete in the tournament. Reflecting on that moment, she shared, "This event has always been very special to me. I received a sponsor exemption to this event in 2015 when I was trying to make my way out onto the Tour, and that really meant a lot to me."
Since that initial appearance, Brooke has displayed exceptional consistency, nevermissing a cut at the ShopRite LPGA Classic. In fact, her finishes have steadily improved over the years, culminating in a second-place finish in 2021 and a resounding victoryin 2022. However,her connection to the tournament goes beyond the golf course itself.
Brooke's appreciation for the event stems from its rich history and enduring tradition. As she puts it, "It's been running for such a long time. Been a staple on the LPGA schedule. All the good they do for the community, the millions of dollars they helped raise for charities, I think all of us on the LPGA Tour are really proud of being able to play in events where they give so much back and help so many people that need it."
Having participated in the tournament for eight consecutive years, she has fully embraced the Shore Tradition, making Seaview Resort her home away from home during the event - staying on the groundsof Seaview Resort and dining within the premises. It’s in the early days, scanning the walls of past champions that it occurred to her it could be her name up there one day.
“It's really inspiring and always a lot of fun to read those names up in the Grille Room and just around the entire place. I'm really proud that I get to add my name to that list of past champs, Annika, Juli, Cristie, Lexi, Nancy Lopez, and the list goes on and on,” Brooke explained.
With her name now etched in the annals of the ShopRite LPGA Classic, the Seaview Golf Club will forever hold a special place in Brooke Henderson's heart. Yet, she is not the only competitor who will find solace in the embraceof a hometown crowd this year. MeaghanFrancella, too, will compete in the tournament on a sponsor exemption.
Meaghan's return to the tour at Seaview last year was the talk of the town. After spending nine years away from competitive LPGA events, she immersed herselfin various roleswithin the golf industry, eventually finding her passion for teaching. In the past year, Meaghanhas served as the teaching professional at Philadelphia Cricket Club, conveniently located just a short hour and a half drive from Seaview. The members of the Cricket Club have eagerly seized the opportunity to support their local favorite, with Meaghan distributing over 50 tickets to her clients and friends.
For Meaghan, the 2021 ShopRite LPGA Classic was a convergence of her past and present careers. Inside the ropes, she engaged with her fellowtour players, whileher current clientsand hometown supporters cheered her on from outside the gallery ropes. In keeping with the Shore Tradition, Meaghan revisited the local restaurants that had always made her feel at home.
Topping her list was Chef Vola's in Atlantic City, where her local connections helped secure a coveted reservation. As Meaghan explains,"One of my students is best friendswith the owner, soI just send him a text and I get the reservation. Juli Inkster used to make a note on her calendar to call like six weeks ahead of time to get a reservation there.”
It is these personal connections that make Meaghan's return to professional golf for a second consecutive year at the ShopRite LPGA Classic particularly meaningful. For her local fans, making the trip to Seaviewis like a mini-vacation. Meaghanadds, "Being able to be here and play and have family come, you know, it's just really important for me. I stopped playing for so long, and for peopleto come back and see it, it's funny. Like my -- we had a lot of familyfriends that came to this eventand went to Atlantic City and gambledevery time I played, so they loved it."
Ultimately, what truly makes a place feel like home extends beyond the golf course, the picturesque coastline, or the delectable clam chowder. It is the sense of camaraderie with the community that surrounds the players and creates a genuine bond.For one specialweek each year, competitors are welcomed into the vibrant culture of southern New Jersey as honorary locals.
As a previous player at the ShopRite LPGA Classic and frequent visitorat the Seaview, I've had the privilege of witnessing firsthand the fusion of sport and community, as well as the indescribable feeling of belonging that fills the air at Seaview Golf Resort.
When I was younger, my mom and I used to escape the snow-covered grounds of the Philadelphia suburbs by embarking on day tripsto the shore. It becamea tradition for us, especially because my mom had grown up spending winter vacations at the Seaview Golf Resort.
As we continued thesegetaways, we developed a special bond with the Seaview staffand made sure to visit our favorite local spots. Our mornings always began with delicious cinnamon rolls from Chester's Pastry Pantry, and we would indulge in clam chowder for lunch at the Grille Room, followed by dinner at McGettigan's 19th Hole.
At the age of 18, after my third attempt ,I finally qualified for the ShopRite LPGA Classic. It was a pivotal moment in my career, and it felt like a full circle experience. Local fans and newfound friends showed up to support me, and we chose to stay at the Seaview, where I felt an even stronger sense of belonging than usual. Since then, I have had the privilege of participating in the tournament three times, and with each passing year, my affection for the event deepens. The memories, the joy, and the friendships that have blossomed over the years have made a lasting impact on me.
It is an event that not only showcases the incredible talent and dedication of these golfers but also celebrates the shared experiences, traditions, and relationships that have been forged over the tournament's 35-year history.
As the tournament unfolds,golf enthusiasts and local supporters will come togetherto create an electric atmosphere, cheering for their favorites and relishing in the excitement of every shot.
And amidst this collective spirit, Brooke Hendersonand Meaghan Francellawill find solace, knowing that they have found a second home at Seaview.
For Henderson, the memories of her initialsponsor exemption, the consistent performances, and the triumphs have cemented her bond with this hallowed ground.
Similarly, Francella's journey back to professional golf has been a testament to perseverance and the unwavering support of her local community. With her return to the ShopRite LPGA Classic, she can showcase her skills while reconnecting with those who have been there for her throughout her career.
As the tournament concludes, the cheers will subside, but the memoriesand connections made during this special week will linger. The ShopRite LPGA Classic will continue to hold a cherished placein the hearts of golfers,fans, and the community at large. It represents not only a world-class sporting event but a testament to the power of unity and shared passion.
So, as the players prepare to tee off and the crowd gathers in anticipation, one thing is certain—the ShopRite LPGA Classic will once again exemplify the true essence of home, where fairways become pathways to lifelong memories, and a community embraces those who have come to call it their own.