Full-field LPGA tournament will be known as the Bell Micro LPGA Classic

Friday, January 11, 2008
By GARETH CLARY, Sports Reporter

Don Bell, president and CEO of California-based Bell Microproducts, was sitting in a hotel room in London last year when he received a phone call from David Bronner, the CEO of the Retirement Systems of Alabama.
Bronner was looking for a title sponsor for a full-field LPGA tournament in Mobile and Bell, a Montgomery native, promised he would think about it.

Later that weekend in London, Bell was surfing TV channels and came across the telecast of the LPGA Tournament of Champions at Magnolia Grove’s Crossings Course.
He was sold.

Bell and Bronner were at the Battle House Hotel on Thursday to announce that the Bell Micro LPGA Classic will be played on the Crossings Course on Sept. 11-14 as part of a three-year deal that will keep major professional golf in town at least through 2010.

“As someone who was born and raised in Alabama, having Bell Microproducts as the title sponsor of an LPGA tournament at Magnolia Grove is a particular point of pride to me,” said Bell, whose $4 billion company (NASDAQ: BELM) is a world-wide distributor of computer products, solutions and services.

“I talked to some of our people and they got excited about it and decided this was a great opportunity. It’s not only something that helps the state of Alabama — we’re interested in that for several reasons — but also we think it will help the company and the exposure to golf fans. We’re sports-minded. We’re very competitive in our industry. We thrive on competition. We thrive on sports. This has taken my company by storm and we haven’t even started promoting it yet.”

Bell Microproducts, which is based in San Jose, Calif., with businesses in 22 countries, is also a major sponsor of the Rahal-Letterman Racing Team.

The Bell Micro Classic will be a 72-hole tournament with a purse of $1.4 million this year, with $210,000 going to the winner. It will be a full-field event, meaning roughly 144 players will be competing. That’s at least 100 more than the select-field TOC featured in its final event in November.

The new event will give Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail two full-field LPGA tournaments. The Navistar Classic at Capitol Hill in Prattville will be played two weeks after the Bell Micro Classic this year, but LPGA vice president of tournament business affairs Mike Nichols said the tournaments would be played back-to-back weeks in 2009 for a true Alabama swing on the tour.

“Today, we announce another milestone for Alabama, one that will have a tremendous economic impact to Mobile and will bring untold tourism dollars to our state,” Bronner said.

“Over the years, the Mobile area has supported the LPGA Tournament of Champions and we know golf fans throughout the region will enjoy this full-field event in Mobile. With the Bell Micro Classic and Navistar Classic two weeks later, it will be quite a sight to see the LPGA professionals taking on these challenging courses across our beautiful state in September. The new tournament will be a tremendous economic boon to Mobile and showcase the area internationally.”

The news of the LPGA returning to Mobile was of particular interest to Christina Kim, whose last tour victory was the 2005 TOC at Magnolia Grove.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Kim said in a phone interview. “For me, it’s awesome because I have ties from Mobile and being a San Jose girl, it can’t get much better than this. Mobile has always been of my favorite tournaments. It’s a beautiful city, wonderful people and home of Mardi Gras, which you can never, ever beat.
“You can’t pick a better sponsor than Bell Micro. I know where they’re located between I-680 and I-880. The fact that we’re going to be able to share the wonderful people, the culture and the food of Mobile with the rest of the LPGA is exciting. It’s one of the events that players always talked about but a lot of them couldn’t play because they haven’t won a tournament. Now, they can play.”

Last year’s Navistar Classic was the first full-field LPGA event in Alabama, and its success prompted Bronner to bring one in Mobile.

He was impressed by the global reach of the tour, which has major stars from Mexico, Europe, Asia, Australia and South America, in addition to rising young Americans like Paula Creamer, who won the TOC by eight strokes in November.

“You’re going from an event of 30-plus golfers to 140 or so golfers and the ramifications of that are phenomenal because of the ability to bring in press from around the world,” Bronner said. “You elevate the level of the news with a big event like this. We’re going to take the girls, where they went to school and where they were born or where they live and we have 56 (RSA-owned) TV stations. We’ll do interviews with them and let everybody know they’re in Mobile.”

The tournament will also be televised by The Golf Channel.

Jim Johnson, the tournament director for the TOC, will remain in that capacity for the Bell Micro Classic. Birmingham-based Bruno Event Team will be heavily involved in the tournament operations.

With a full-field event, tournament officials noted that there will be a need for an additional 300-400 volunteers than the TOC required to help things run smoothly.

The phone number for the tournament office will be 251-432-9340 and the new Web site — www.bellmicrolpgaclassic.com — is operational.