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First round of Women's Open draws crowds, midstate business leaders

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Ayako Uehara of Japan lines up a putt on the 18th hole during a practice round July 5 at Lancaster Country Club.
Ayako Uehara of Japan lines up a putt on the 18th hole during a practice round July 5 at Lancaster Country Club. - (Photo / )

After two years of exhaustive planning at the local, regional and even national level, the first official round of the 2015 U.S. Women's Open got underway this morning at the Lancaster Country Club.

A field of 156 of the world's best professional and amateur women golfers is in town to battle for the championship spot, and with 18 hours of live coverage planned for the next four days on Fox Sports, the whole world will be watching.

More than 100,000 visitors are also expected to view the event in person, substantially adding to the estimated $25 million to $30 million in direct and indirect spending that will result from the event, according to USGA officials.

Midstate businesses have rallied to support the tournament — as sponsors, as contractors and subcontractors, and even as part of the force of 2,200 volunteers who are doing everything from greeting visitors to manning the leaderboards to offering medical services at first aid trailers.

Alice Yoder, director of community health for the Lancaster General Health system, said this morning that a little more than 30 people sought treatment at the two trailers — one at the entrance to the course and another at the "lucky" 13th hole — during practice rounds Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Though most of the health issues were minor — some cases of dehydration and a guy who managed to get a rubber earbud cover stuck in his ear, for example — only a handful of people were transported to the hospital, Yoder said. As she spoke, two EMTs who had gone out to the course on a golf cart a few minutes before came back with a man who had an IV in his arm and took him directly to an ambulance.

RELATED: Coming to Women's Open: 15,000 hot dogs, 150 toilets, 130 doctors and nurses

At nearby Chamber Court, a hospitality venue sponsored by the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Tom Hinkle, retired owner of the Hinkle Insurance Agency in Lancaster, related how he had caddied at LCC back in the late 1940s and early 1950s when he was a teenager. "And I've never seen it in better shape," he said.

Hinkle said as a fanatical golf fan who's "walked thousands of holes" at golf tournaments all over the East Coast, he was "thrilled" to see the Women's Open in Lancaster — just a half mile from his home, in fact.

"So many people are here from out of state, and I think we're going to make a good impression," he said, noting that he'd attended the Monday and Tuesday practice rounds. "The volunteers are so friendly and helpful, and everyone's doing a phenomenal job."

Richard Bowra, executive director of the Dauphin County Library System in Harrisburg, had just finished his morning shift working the thru-board — which shows who's currently on deck — on the 12th hole. He said he also worked the "monster board" — the one that shows all of the leaders' current stats — at the front of the course on Monday, and was scheduled to do it again Friday morning from 6:30 to 10:30.

"I was up and down the ladder six hours straight on Monday," Bowra noted, adding that for an avid golfer like himself, volunteering for the championship was "a great experience."

"It's so cool," he said. "I never expected to have this opportunity."

Over at the "corporate cottages," small, wooden hospitality venues built  by Horizon Structures in Lancaster for some of the tournament's sponsors, Capital BlueCross President and CEO Gary St. Hilaire enthused about the event's financial impact.

"It's so good for the community and the local economy," he said. "It brings in tourism and everyone benefits."

St. Hilaire pointed out some of the other cottages, noting the presence of companies like Armstrong World Industries, Auntie Anne's Soft Pretzels, Kegels Produce, LNP Media Group, Serta Mattress Co., UGI Utilities Inc. and Wohlson Construction.

"Clients love to come to this place for a little respite from the tournament," he said. "They're simple sheds built by Horizon, but they're finished inside and they're beautiful."

RELATED: Women's Open emphasizes local business, economic impact

Douglas Pfautz, general manager of Interface Performance Materials Inc. in East Hempfield Township, said having his company involved in such a high-profile tournament is "fantastic."

"For Lancaster to host this event is just incredible," he said. "It's a great area in a great location, and everyone should be very proud of what we've accomplished here."

NOTE: As of 3:15 this afternoon, American Marina Alex and Australian Karrie Webb topped the leader board, tied for first place at 4 under par.

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Larry Portzline

Larry Portzline

Larry Portzline covers York County, nonprofits, workforce and education. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at larryp@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @CPBJLarryP. Circle Larry Portzline on .

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