The Symetra Tour returns to Atlanta National Golf Club for a third straight year, with the 2018 tournament scheduled for May 4-6 at one of just two Pete Dye designs in Georgia.
The Symetra Tour is the LPGA’s version of the Web.com Tour, serving as the primary developmental tour for female professionals looking to reach the top in women’s golf.
This year’s event has a new sponsor – IOA, the Insurance Office of America. The tournament is one of three the company will sponsor on the 2018 Symetra Tour, with the IOA Invitational the designation for the Atlanta tour stop.
The tournament will feature a $150,000 purse, a significant enhancement over the past, with the field of 144 including a number of players who have held LPGA Tour status in the past or have limited status for the 2018 season.
Six Georgia residents will be competing in the tournament, along with two others who played for colleges in the state.
The veteran among the Georgia contingent is Newnan’s Jean Reynolds, who has played the Symetra and Futures Tours, the Symetra Tour predecessor, for a decade, along with a stint on the LPGA Tour early in her career.
Reynolds has 21 career top 10s on the tour along with two Futures Tour wins, and has been a consistent player in recent years on the Symetra Tour, placing among the top 50 in earnings each of the past five seasons. She was 34th on the 2013 money list, and has finished 27, 31, 41 and 48 the past four years. She has competed in the tournament at Atlanta National each of the past two years and was among the top 10 after the opening round in 2016 before falling back the next two days.
Also in this year’s field are Jonesboro’s Lacey Agnew, Thomasville’s Jessica Welch, Perry’s Avery George, Duluth’s Min Seo Kwak and Alpharetta’s Amira Alexander. Recent UGA golfer Manuela Carbajo Re is also in the field along with Casey Kennedy, who played her college golf at Augusta State.
Both Agnew and George are coming back from injuries and will be making their first starts of 2018. Agnew, who played her college golf at Florida State and was an LPGA Tour member for a year, was a successful Symetra Tour player from 2013-15, but has been slowed by injuries since.
George finished 73rd as a rookie on last year’s money list with a tie for ninth in the tournament at Atlanta National her best finish. She is making her first start of 2018 since suffering a significant leg injury. George played her college golf at Middle Tennessee.
Welch was also a Symetra rookie last year and ended up 52nd on the money list with ties for second and third in a three-week stretch in June. She missed the cut in her appearance at Atlanta National. Welch played her college golf for Jacksonville U.
Kwak has played on either the Futures/Symetra or LPGA Tours for the past decade, and enjoyed solid LPGA seasons in 2015 and ’16, placing 76 and 92 on the money list, but lost her exempt status after the 2017 season. This will be her first Symetra start of 2018.
Alexander is in the field on a sponsor’s invite, and is also making her first start of 2018 after competing in just three events last year. She played in college at Georgia before transferring to Kent State, where she graduated.
Valdosta’s Dori Carter was initially in the field, but has a spot in the LPGA event in Dallas that week and will be competing in that tournament. Carter, who has played on the LPGA Tour since 2011 after winning a Futures event in 2010, will be playing on both the Symetra and LPGA Tours this season, as she retains limited LPGA status.
Nanna Koerstz Madsen, last year’s winner, will not be back at Atlanta National to defend her title, as she is an exempt LPGA Tour in 2018. Riverdale’s Mariah Stackhouse, who was runner-up to Madsen last year, is also playing on the LPGA Tour this year and is currently 81st on the money list.
Former Furman golfer Laura Wearn, who won at Atlanta National in 2016, will be in the field along with Stephanie Meadow, the winner of the most recent Symetra Tour tournament.
The top 10 finishes on the 2018 Symetra Tour money list earn exempt status for next year’s LPGA Tour, with other Symetra Tour members looking to earnLPGA status for 2019 through the qualifying process later this year.
The IOA Invitation is the third of 21 Symetra Tour tournaments in 2018, and begins a three-week Southern swing that includes Greenwood, S.C., the next week and Charlotte the week after that. The season concludes in early October with the Tour Championship in Daytona Beach at LPGA headquarters.
Atlanta National is one of the more intriguing layouts in metro Atlanta, with some of Dye’s trademark design features. The course is relatively open off the tee, but there are plenty of hazards in play, along with some demanding and diverse greens complexes.
The nines are reversed for the tournament, as Atlanta National’s scenic par-5 ninth is a much more accommodating finishing hole for spectators than the 18th. Among the design features are greens bordered by hazards and perched up above railroad ties, some extremely deep greenside bunkers along with expansive waste areas, and a drivable par 4 and an island green par 3 back-to-back near the end of what is the front nine for the tournament.
With the nines reversed, Atlanta National’s two finishing holes for the tournament are a demanding, dogleg right par-4 with length, and a risk/reward par-5 that can produce a dramatic finish.