An awful lot of water has passed under the bridge since Evian appeared on the women’s golf scene in 1994 with the intention of promoting water and the town it came from via the medium of a golf tournament played by women. Girl golfers, juniors in general, football, iconic, eccentric hats (presented to the champion) and charity were also part of the mix. Evian, a key part of the Danone empire of Franck Riboud, even sponsored the women’s European Tour briefly but that proved uncontrollable, unsustainable and unsatisfactory and Riboud decided to concentrate on turning the Evian Masters into the best tournament in the world.
A determined man, he’s come close and The Evian Championship is now in its 4th year as a major championship, one of five in the women’s game. Even in the days when the field was limited and there was no cut, it was a special event in a special, spectacular place. The players, usually in the company of family and friends, were so spoiled and pampered that they found it hard to concentrate on the job in hand. High above Lake Geneva, with views to gladden the heart of the most jaded traveller, the resort specialises in helping guests relax and recharge. Karrie Webb, the Australian Hall of Famer who was renowned for her fierce competitiveness and concentration, once admitted that she found it hard to remember that she was at work and not on holiday.
Webb won the title in 2006 and most of the champions have been top-notch. The few that have been goods rather than very goods or greats can bask in the glory of a title that is never less than hard won and includes names like Annika Sorenstam, Juli Inkster, Laura Davies, Ai Miyazato and Helen Alfredsson, the mercurial Swede who won the inaugural event in 1994. Ever unpredictable, Alfie also won in 1998 and completed her hat-trick (please, no insistence that that has to be three in a row) in 2008. France, and Evian, suited Alfie like nowhere else and no one else has won the event three times.
The one anomaly is that there has never been a French winner. It’s ridiculous really because for years France’s women golfers were vastly better than their men, in that they were world-class rather than just all right, not bad, pretty good, promising. On reflection, perhaps that was the amateur era of the likes of Catherine Lacoste, Brigitte Varangot and Claudine Cros. France’s women professionals have been excellent without quite taking the world by storm. Marie-Laure de Lorenzi, Patricia Meunier-Lebouc, Karine Icher, Gwladys Nocera, Karine Espinasse and many others have been stalwarts of the game but the country has yet to produce a Sorenstam or a Lydia Ko.It’s easy to forget, in these days of FedEx, Ryder Cup and Evian Championship fever, that all golfers start out as amateurs. The first Women’s World Amateur Team Championship for the Espirito Santo Trophy was held at St Germain in Paris in 1964 and was won for France by Cros, Lacoste and Varangot. The competition is still going and is taking place in Mexico as you read (providing it’s not after September the 17th). Did you realise that? Have you read about that elsewhere? The Republic of Korea was leading after the first round, Switzerland were second, Ireland third, with Denmark and Thailand tied for fourth. Golf really is a global game. Keep playing!