No diving allowed
New LPGA major venue is ready for a winner's water leap, but will the tradition live on?
A view of the platform that has been set up at Carlton Woods to allow the winner to jump into the lake if she so chooses. (Kent Paisley photo)
THE WOODLANDS, Texas — It's an odd sight on the lake next to the 18th green at the Club at Carlton Woods. A 12-foot-long dock sits prominently next to it. A casual observer might think it allows someone to swim for lost golf balls. But instead, it will be the stage for the winner of the first Chevron Championship played outside of California. Will she continue the tradition that Amy Alcott started in 1988 when she leaped into Poppie’s Pond on the Dinah Shore Course at Mission Hills?
That part of the celebration is not yet a given, and if the champion chooses not to, could the tradition die just shy of the 25th leap?
“Does it go away completely?” Stacy Lewis asked. “Who knows, somebody could win next year and decide they want to bring it back and do it. [It] just needs to be like we talked about on our player advisory calls; it needs to be natural, it needs to be kind of spur of the moment and not a forced thing, so hopefully it stays that way.”
Prepping for a possible leap has been no small task, with Carlton Woods taking numerous steps to ensure the safety of the potential jump. General Manager Stephen Salzman explained that after an initial consultation with the Nicklaus design team, they feared digging deeper next to the green to create a safe leap could cause the ground to give way and start sliding into the lake. Initially, the lake increased in depth a foot for every three feet away from the edge of the lake. They decided to dredge the bottom of the lake out to five feet deep, 12 feet from the grass, and build a dock to allow players to get there. Then, a dive team ensured that rocks and debris were removed from the area, providing a safe amount of space to land in.
“All I've done is encourage them, don't dive,” Salzman said. “Cannonball. Something that doesn't lead with your head, and you'll be good.”
Even though over the last 10 years, Salzman only recalls one alligator sighting, they installed gator net to prevent any unexpected visits.
Another concern voiced is the water quality. However, the lake is primarily rainwater—clean, even though not as clear as Poppie's Pond. A further vote of confidence is that the lake has already seen numerous celebratory leaps into it, even before the dredging. The Carlton Cup, a tournament held annually between teaching pros at the Carlton Woods and nearby The Woodlands, has the winning captain jump into the lake.
“I would much rather go swimming in that lake than a lake in a homeowner's association,” Salzman said.
The likelihood seems high that someone will make the jump. Nelly Korda signaled she would at her press conference on Tuesday. So have Jeongeun Lee6, Moriya Jutanugarn, and Nasa Hataoka. Jennifer Kupcho, who made the last jump into Poppie’s Pond last year as the champion, shared trepidation due to a fear of snakes.
“The tradition of the tournament, jumping is a big part,” Hataoka said. “Also, I’ll be very excited.”
Past champions Amy Alcott and Patricia Meunier-Lebouc jumped into Poppie's Pond after the 2022 Chevron Championship to commemorate that last playing of the major at Mission Hills Golf Resort.
An LPGA spokesperson explained a robe will be near the dock Sunday for the winner to don after jumping in. But even if a player opts not to head down the dock and take the leap, potentially leaving the heralded tradition back in the California desert, it won't change the fact she is a celebrated major champion.
“There's also nothing wrong with keeping Poppie’s Pond and maintaining its own legacy and everything that was done in Palm Springs, In Palm Springs,” said 21-year veteran Christina Kim. “If you're going to win, I don't give a s--t what you do.”