Column: LPGA needs to look ahead and not what it left behind


Losing tradition can seem even tougher when tradition is in scarce supply.

Such is the case in women’s golf, which has had eight tournaments designated as major championships dating to 1930. And because of title sponsorship — the key to survival — those eight majors have had 21 names.

The latest will be a major adjustment. The Chevron Championship starts Thursday, still the first major on the LPGA schedule, though nothing like it was.

For 40 years, the first LPGA major was known for palm trees, the warmth of the California desert, majestic mountains that framed the Coachella Valley and a big splash when the winner took golf’s most famous leap into Poppie’s Pond.

This was the only LPGA major that never left the place where it started — with apologies to the Evian Championship in France, a faux major on the schedule the last 10 years.

It was known by so many simply as the Dinah Shore.

And now it’s time to move on, which in this case means moving from the California desert to the suburbs north of Houston. And as hard as it is to leave behind so much tradition, and so many memories, players need to adapt and embrace.

This much should be clear: Without Chevron stepping in, there would be no tournament.

“I can’t lie and say I don’t miss Palm Springs just because I’ve been going there for so long and the history of the place,” Nelly Korda said Tuesday at The Club at Carlton Woods. “But so far, my time here has been amazing. It’s amazing to see a company like Chevron step up and support women’s golf. I think we’re all extremely grateful for it.”

Chevron already has raised the prize fund to $5.1 million — an increase of $2 million from 2021, the final year of what was then the ANA Inspiration. It also is bringing as much fabric from Mission Hills as it can.

There was a dinner for champions on Monday night, a tradition that began a decade ago. The hospitality area around the 18th green at The Club at Carlton Woods is named after Dinah Shore. The winner still gets the Dinah Shore Trophy.

And yes, there’s a lake in front of the 18th green.

Korda said she would jump if she wins.

Title sponsorship is the lifeblood of golf. That’s particularly true on the LPGA Tour, which has been on its own for 72 years and now competes for nearly $100 million in prize money. No other women’s sports organization can claim that kind of sustained success.

And that’s why the LPGA would do well to spend its energy looking ahead, not at the memories it leaves behind.

The old Dinah Shore was not without issues.

In recent years, it no longer had network television coverage (NBC has the final two rounds of the Chevron). It previously was played the weekend before the Masters, and the Saturday of the Final Four in college basketball. That became a problem when the Augusta National Women’s Amateur began in 2019 and the best amateurs had to decide between playing an LPGA major or playing at the home of the Masters.

The LPGA should be used to change by now.

The two oldest majors — the Women’s Western Open (1930) and the Titleholders Championship (1937) — no longer exist.

The du Maurier Classic was designated a major in 1979 and lasted until 2001, when Canada passed legislation that kept tobacco companies from sponsoring sporting events. That led to the Women’s British Open being elevated to a major. Karrie Webb won at Turnberry in 2002 and remains the only woman to have won five different majors.

Evian, which had one of the higher purses among regular tournaments, was given major status in 2013 when the LPGA risked losing it.

The longest-running major is the U.S. Women’s Open, which dates to 1946, four years before the LPGA Tour began. It long has been regarded as the biggest event in women’s golf and now has a prize fund ($10 million) and lineup of courses (Pebble Beach, Riviera, Oakland Hills, Merion) that burnishes such a reputation.

The LPGA Championship goes back to 1955 but lacked continuity in golf courses and sponsorship. It went from Mazda to McDonald’s — Ronald McDonald with his red hair and big red shoes was a regular at DuPont Country Club in Wilmington, Delaware — and moved to Rochester, New York, with Wegmans as the title.

Prestige returned when the PGA of America joined with the LPGA Tour in creating the KPMG Women’s PGA, which features a $9 million purse and major championship venues like Baltusrol, Congressional and Hazeltine.

“It’s sometimes sad to leave tradition,” said Lydia Ko, who won at Mission Hills in 2016 when it was the ANA Inspiration. “But I think the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is a clear example of, yeah, it was really hard to leave that New York area where we had the Wegmans. But what KPMG has done to keep elevating that championship, I believe that partners like Chevron … they’re going to keep elevating it.

“It’s going to be different to go to a new golf course,” she said. “But I think the tour has full trust and we’re excited for a new venue of The Chevron Championship.”

The Jack Nicklaus Signature has plenty of water, and the lake in front of the 18th green will be suitable for a leap.

After having to leave behind so much tradition, a big splash this week wouldn’t hurt.


DOUG FERGUSON, AP Golf Writer, wrote this story

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