By DENNIS GRALL For the Daily Press

HARRIS, Mich. —  A record field will have their collective sights on a special prize next week at the Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass.

A field of 156 women will be on hand for the ninth annual Symetra Tour event at Sweetgrass Golf Club. The normal field is 144 players but it was expanded this year because the top two finishers will earn automatic entry into the Evian Chamionship, one of five major championships on the LPGA Tour.

“It made complete sense to align this event with such a prestigious major tournament,” Mike Nichols, chief business officer of the Symetra Tour, said in a press release.

“Every year the Island Resort Championship has continued to find ways to grow and branch out. This now adds to their already sterling reputation and further makes it a stop on the Symetra Tour that all players will have circled on their calendars.”

The record field will be playing for a $200,000 purse, with the winner’s share at $30,000.

Defending champion Ruixin Liu of China will not chase a second-straight title. She earned one of the automatic spots on the LPGA Tour which is awarded to the top 10 on the Volvik Race for the Card. Liu won three times last year.

“Once I stepped into the winner’s circle, it really showed me that I had the ability to do something special,” Liu said in a Symetra release. “The community of Harris was so welcoming, Island Resort & Casino is a first-class sponsor and I loved every minute of my time at this event.”

Liu was the top money winner on the Symetra Tour last season and was the Tour’s Player of the Year.

The 54-hole stroke play tournament starts at 7:30 a.m. Friday, with threesomes going off tees 1 and 10 Friday and Saturday. For the final round June 23, twosomes will tee off from No. 1, with the trophy presentation and Potawatomi blanket for the winner on the 18th green.

“We can’t wait to welcome the future stars of the LPGA Tour, as well as some current members in search of a spot in the Evian Championship field,” Tony Mancilla, co-director of the tournament and general manager of Island Resort & Casino, said in the same news release.

“The excitement of having such outstanding golf in Harris will always be spectacular, but this (Evian qualifiers) takes it to another level for years to come.”

Most of next week’s entrants are playing the 35th —- and final — Forsyth Classic in Decatur, Ill., this weekend. The final edition of the Symetra’s longest-running tournament also offers a $200,000 purse, with the top 10 in the money race all participating.

Two of that top 10 have been extended special exemptions into the KPMC Women’s PGA Championship in Chaska, Minn., next week. Volvik leader Leona McGuire of Ireland and No. 4 Naria Iturrioz of Spain will be at the PGA Championship instead of at Sweetgrass. Iturrioz has won three of her last seven tournaments.

Also playing at Decatur this weekend is Madison Pressel, who has played at the Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass a couple of times. Pressel, whose sister Morgan is on the LPGA Tour, has made the cut in all 10 tournaments this season. Madison Pressel has also made several starts on the LPGA Tour.

The tour, in its 39th season, is the official qualifying tour for the LPGA Tour. Symetra became the official sponsor in 2012. The tour has grown from 16 tournaments and $1.7 million in prize money to 24 tournaments and $4 million.

Practice rounds begin Monday at Sweetgrass, with pro-ams planned Wednesday and Thursday, with different Symetra Tour golfers playing each day based on their Volvik standings. The deadline to enter the tournament is Monday night, with the low 60 and ties after Saturday playing the final day.

A ticket package of $10 is good for all three days of the tournament. Food and refreshments are $2. Some of the best viewing sites are around two adjacent par three holes, No. 7 green and No. 12 tee. The iconic island green, No. 15, is also visible from the 12th tee and the old Nahma bridge that connects 15 green to the land is also an excellent viewing location.