I always loved going to Mission Hills for the Dinah Shore. The very best golfers in the world were there and everything about it was glamorous, a bit exotic even, if you came from Portstewart. California, Palm Springs (well, Rancho Mirage technically but even so), roads named after film stars even I’d heard of, hospitals named after POTUSes and their spouses, wow, wow, wow.
Then there was Dinah, a proper star, who’d had her own TV show, was a mate of Frank Sinatra and was truly mega. The pro-ams (in the plural) were testament to her pulling power, choc-a-bloc with top, top names (the double top is obligatory these days isn’t it?) of stage, screen, sport and business. The tournament oozed class and from the start offered money that the women of the LPGA could barely believe. The first purse, in 1972, was $110,000, with the winner earning $20,050. To put that in perspective, the average tournament purse in those days was $32,000. The Dinah lifted the women golfers into the sporting stratosphere.
The man behind this influx of cash and charisma was David Foster, CEO of Colgate-Palmolive, a keen and competent golfer, a member at Sunningdale and a shrewd promoter of his products. He persuaded Dinah, a tennis player, to turn to golf and she threw herself into her new role with such enthusiasm that she eventually became an honorary member of the LPGA Hall of Fame. Her name is no longer in the title but the course is named after her, there’s a walk of champions and a statue, so, with luck, the tour will never forget her contribution to its growth and the women’s game as a whole. If you get the chance, speak to Judy Rankin, Jan Stephenson, Jane Blalock, Helen Alfredsson, Amy Alcott, Kathy Whitworth, Laura Davies, Nancy Lopez, Juli Inkster, any number of players now of a certain age or beyond, about Dinah.
The Dinah in many ways was the women’s Masters, the first major of the season, played at the same course every year, with a limited, mostly elite field. From the very beginning it was a big event and it was designated a major in 1983 (although the champions prior to that were not similarly elevated, women perhaps being more pernickety than men in such matters. See The Open, US Open, USPGA and Masters.) Over the years, however, an event that set the standard in every way lost some of its lustre and started trading on past glories. For this observer at least, penny-pinching was the phrase that came to mind. The purse started lagging behind that of the other majors and, I’m sorry to say, it still is, according to the figures I’ve seen.
The ANA Inspiration, as the Dinah is now, has lots of initiatives that are designed to inspire, including the very important one of providing more varied, sometimes healthier, certainly more interesting food for the fans.
I’d mark that down as inspirational and I’m all in favour of innovation but important as the peripherals are, the core is the golf and if you’re a major, you have to behave like one and pay out accordingly. The argument that golfers are paid too much and purses are ridiculous is for another day. If you’re a major, your purse has to reflect that status and, frankly, in that regard, the ANA is neglecting its duty.
The current offering, according to the LPGA website, is a less than inspirational $2,700,000. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, the Ricoh Women’s British Open and the Evian are all well over $3,000,000 and the US Women’s Open (which swings to a different beat) is a whopping $5,000,000. If the ANA, which starts next week, is to live up to its name and be true to the tournament’s traditions, it has to do what the players always do when there’s a major about and up its game.
Upping the purse from $2.6 million last year to $2.7 this is not just a joke, it’s an insult. It’s saying that women are second-class golfing citizens who should be grateful for what they’re given. No doubt they are and the best women golfers in the world are not going to stay away but if you’re a tournament with delusions of grandeur, with aspirations to be a proper major and a penchant for promoting yourself as inspirational, you have to show that you mean it.
And in this day and age, as in any other, that means putting your money where your mouth is.