Scott Wood has been directly affected by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. But he also played a role that had a direct impact on the LPGA’s return to Southwest Florida.

Wood is running the Cognizant Founders Cup in Phoenix, and it was ready to happen. Until COVID-19 hit in March 2020.

“We closed on Thursday before going live on Monday (for tournament week),” Wood said.

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The Drive On Championship has become a series of one-time events to help LPGA players fill the gaps in their schedule created by the postponements of many overseas events due to the pandemic.

There were two in 2020, the first in Inverness, Ohio and the second in Reynolds Lake, Georgia, and one last year in Golden Ocala.

“It was a way for us to kind of control how the LPGA was going to start after we closed,” said Wood, who was one of the four. “It was something we could really control because we owned and operated it. We were our own sponsors.

“It’s become almost familiar to the players. It’s another way for us to celebrate the tour and all of our members and all of our players.”

The $1.5 million Drive On Championship follows the Hilton Grand Vacations Tournament of Champions in Orlando and the Gainbridge LPGA at Boca Rio in Boca Raton.

“Doing a three-week swing in Florida made the most sense,” Wood said. “Players are able to switch between them. Trying to find a golf course in South Florida in February is like trying to find a golf course in March in Phoenix. I know the difficulty.”

So Crown Colony Golf & Country Club has finally come forward, through General Manager David Kent, and will host this week’s event with play Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

“The red carpet has been rolled out,” said Wood, who said a “big net” was cast around the state to see which courses were interested. “We can’t say enough about David and his team, but the members, the HOA, the community here, everyone is welcoming.

“It was a home run. It really was. It’s one of those things where the golf course gets as many rave reviews as the community, as we play in a familiar place with a base fans and all. It’s such a solid golf course. The more players get out and practice, the more it’s a real test of golf.

Wood said the schedule for getting the tournament was the main reason no fans will be allowed to watch the event live.

“It’s not like we don’t want to have it,” he said. “…Given the timing of everything, from a safety perspective and just from an infrastructure perspective, we just felt like we were really focused on giving our players and our members a solid opportunity to earn another paycheck for this year, and then when you start looking when you start ticket sales, and you do everything and all the infrastructure that goes into shuttles and parking , etc., it became one of those things where we said let’s do X, Y and Z really, really well, and focus on that and make sure that happens.

“We know the fans are the lifeblood – the fans and the sponsors. We’re not like the PGA Tour. I know David’s had a lot of phone calls and we’ve had messages through the LPGA that people want come and support. They also understand that the short planning time, it’s not feasible.”

The name of the tournament comes from the LPGA’s Drive On campaign which highlighted some of the other players on the tour who may not be the most important, but have fascinating stories. Napoli’s Mo Martin, who has spent most of her time in her home state of California since the pandemic began, was one of the players featured.

Since there was already a recognition factor with this campaign, it made sense to integrate it into the created tournaments.

“Over the past three years, this Drive On campaign has really been able to personalize a lot of our players who aren’t covered,” Wood said. “The stories behind Drive On and how we’ve been able to promote it, and being able to tell that story to a wider audience, I think by having a Drive On tournament title, I think that’s really been a catalyst for the tour to continue our upliftment.”

While the Drive On Championships are unique, would there be a possibility of a return to Southwest Florida as part of a more permanent Florida swing with Orlando and Boca Raton already secured? Wood was evasive.

“It’s a smooth operation and a thought process,” Wood said. “This is how we have been operating for 23 months now.”