Was it really the conflict with the Augusta National Women’s Amateur that brought it to an end? Or was it the galleries that seemed to get a little smaller every year? Or was it the lack of an instantly recognizable title sponsor?
Or maybe it was just the time before the first major LPGA championship of the year was held for the last time in April of this year in the Coachella Valley. The newly christened Chevron Championship, an event that seemed woven into the fabric of the desert, is being ripped out of southern California and transplanted to a yet-to-be-named spot in the Houston area for 2023.
New dates later in the spring, a shiny new sponsor in chevron, a huge jump in the wallet and even the promise of television time on the network await the tournament in Texas. What remains is history, tradition, a great golf course and memories that are not so well received in the modern world of sports.
Make no mistake, the tournament last known as ANA Inspiration had its problems, not least the looming loss of All Nippon Airways as a sponsor after 2022. As an international airline, ANA, like all airlines, bleeded in the pandemic era and no fans in Mission Hills in the past two years due to COVID-19 did not help the event or its sponsor.
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The story goes on
The conflict with the Augusta National Women’s Amateur was a bigger problem than the LPGA or tournament officials initially believed. Augusta National, home of the Masters, is the 800-pound gorilla of golf, and the moment the Georgia Club announced the ANWA for dates conflicting with the LPGA major, smart people in golf knew that a date change would be necessary for the LPGA. Augusta National could have a cornhole tournament and people would watch.
LPGA is losing history, tradition, a great course
Crowds, which seemed smaller and smaller every year, were also a problem. After the LPGA brought ANA to the event and saved the tournament for 2015, a senior LPGA official gazed at the sparse crowd during the third round of the tournament, wondering if desert fans had understood how tough then-commissioner Mike Whan was about it had worked to stay the tournament in the desert.
It was a known secret for much of 2014 that when Kraft left the event that year, multiple sponsors wanted to take over the event, but only if they could relocate it from Rancho Mirage to the east coast or Texas or elsewhere locations . The lure of Poppie’s Pond, the players’ love for the Dinah Shore Tournament Course and an eventful history inspired the LPGA to hold the event in the desert with a sponsor from Japan.
It all ends on April 3rd, the last scheduled round of the old Dinah Shore tournament in the desert.
Yes, the ANWA harmed the desert major, as did the small crowds in the relatively small Coachella Valley market. Just the number of times someone called the tournament “the ANNA” could have driven the LPGA out of the desert.
In the end, the tournament moves because a powerful sponsor that the LPGA needs and desires is raising a lot of money and will move the tournament to a better place, with better television coverage and an appointment outside of ANWA. The greater Houston area will host a larger audience, and current and future players will become less and less tied to the old days in the desert. Honestly, how many players on the global LPGA really know who Dinah Shore was?
The desert sun
So it could be a bigger and better tournament. But it won’t be the same. It can’t be the same. The LPGA and Chevron can find a great golf course, dig a new lake next to the 18th green, and even remove the Dinah Shore statue from Mission Hills Country Club and it won’t be the same.
Nobody in Houston will be able to say, hey, this is where Mickey Wright won her last LPGA event, or this is where Karrie Webb punched that unforgettable wedge, or this is where Betsy King punched the all-important bunker shot. You won’t be able to say that Houston is where Annika Sorenstam won three times, where a fiesta broke out when Lorena Ochoa won, or where Inbee Park and Pernilla Lindberg played an epic eight-hole two-day playoff. And they won’t say Houston is where Amy Alcott began a winning tradition of jumping in Poppie’s Pond, pretty much the only LPGA highlight the SportsCenter is guaranteed to make year after year.
Some fans will be disappointed with the news of the end of the LPGA in the desert. Others will be heartbroken and shed some tears. Some, even some at Mission Hills Country Club, will shrug and move on. But knowing that the 2022 Chevron Championship will be the 51st and final time the event will be held in the desert will feel like losing an old friend. And that’s a feeling that will last for a while.
Larry Bohannan is the golf writer for the Palm Springs Desert Sun, available at [email protected] or (760) 778-4633. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @larry_Bohannan.