It seems like a lifetime ago – and it was certainly a long time ago – but I used to go to the Dinah, now the ANA Inspiration, every year after a couple of weeks in Arizona and then head on to the Masters at Augusta the following week. The tournament that raised the women’s game to another level started life in 1972 as the Dinah Shore Colgate Winners Circle, a 54-hole event with a massive prize fund of $110,000 – the US Women’s Open that year was worth $40,000 in total – and Jane Blalock, the first champion, won $20,050, more than the entire purse at several events.
It was all thanks to David Foster, an Englishman who worked for Colgate and saw women’s golf as a wonderful way to promote his company’s products. Colgate sponsored Dinah Shore’s TV show – she was a megastar – and Foster asked her to host the tournament. Here’s Dinah’s take on her involvement, in the foreword to Amy Alcott’s Guide To Women’s Golf: “I was flattered, of course, but I thought he’d made one little mistake. I didn’t play golf. ‘You must mean a tennis tournament,’ I protested to the very British, very charming Mr Foster. ‘I’m a tennis player, not a golfer’.
“But David did mean golf, and so I began a crash course in playing this game that I’ve come to love so much. That course becomes more intense a month before tournament tee-off time each year….. [there were at least two pro-ams and because Dinah was the hostess with the mostest, the place was awash with what would now be called A-listers, stars of stage, screen, sport and beyond – and fans]…..
“Though I never played it as a child, my roots in golf go back to my mother. Golf was one of the greatest joys in her life, and when I think about her playing golf in Tennessee, I marvel at her guts. After all, there weren’t a lot of women golfers back home in those days. I wonder what she’d think if she saw how many women are playing the game today [1990/1]. I know she’d be just as thrilled as I am…..
“I have a very warm spot in my heart for the women who compete in, and who have won, our tournament. I think their skill, talent and personalities have helped make it special…..”
And, of course, Dinah, with her high profile, her telly show and buddies like Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope – she was that big a star – was beyond special. Players, Alcott included, appeared on her show (and in Colgate ads) and Dinah said: “Amy is a great friend and a terrific individual, but sometimes I’m flabbergasted at some of the nuttier things she does. For instance, when she won our tournament in 1988, she and her caddie dove into the pond at the 18th hole. It’s full of mud hens, mud, ducks and other euch! I was so happy they survived, I promised her that the next time she won I’d dive into the pond instead.”
That started what has become a tradition – the leap into Poppie’s Pond, which is a bit cleaner these days – and the winner’s white towelling dressing gown is as treasured as any green jacket/coat.
Dinah, fair play to her, did jump in with Amy, who won the title three times, in 1983, the event’s first year as a major, 1988 and 1991 and the tennis player turned golfer helped catapult the LPGA and its players into the brightest of limelight, for one week of the year at least. It’s no wonder that she was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 1994 as an honorary member.
A British or Irish player has yet to win at Mission Hills Country Club, Rancho Mirage, home of the tournament since its inception but those of us who made the pilgrimage year after year had plenty to write about as we watched the best players strut their stuff at one of the best venues in front of huge, often rowdy crowds. Laura Davies, in her pomp, came close but never added this to her long list of wins; Helen Dobson, such a good golfer, gave it a good run one year; and the European winners included the ever ebullient Helen Alfredsson and Patricia Meunier-Lebouc, one of France’s finest as well as the all-conquering Annika Sorenstam. The Dinah was rarely dull and the spring drive across the desert from Phoenix to California – a short hop by American standards – was often magical.I’d forgotten about Annika’s red shoes until I spotted them in the impressive, beautifully arranged display and it was a tale that kept us going all week. Don’t ask me what it was now – some sort of marketing ploy I suspect – but those shoes livened up all our pieces and all the pictures. Golf coverage can’t all be about 5-irons to 5 feet otherwise we’d all have died of boredom aeons ago…..
In England we’re back out playing golf again but I won’t tantalise those of you yet to be unleashed with details of our return – in glorious weather. Instead, here’s a postcard, from Dai’s extensive collection, of Mission Hills as it used to be, before Rancho Mirage and Palm Springs sprawled out to take over the desert.